Charting a Course for Success: America's Strategy for STEM Education

The new CoSTEM 5-year Strategic Plan was released at the White House on Tuesday December 4th, "Charting a Course for Success: America's Strategy for STEM Education." Dr. Carol O'Donnell, Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC)--and a member of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) SubCommittee on Federal Coordination in STEM Education (FC-STEM)--was one of many cross-agency authors of the plan. Smithsonian Secretary Skorton sits on the NSTC Committee on STEM (CoSTEM) and was one of the speakers at the event.

The SSEC is engaging in several initiatives that align well with the plan:

(1) The five-year vision for making the nation a global leader in STEM education calls for establishing collaborations between schools and local business to bolster work-based learning. SSEC's Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers (SSSEATs), which is a partnership between Dow Chemical and Jacobs Engineering, is highlighted in the report as an exemplar. 

(2) The plan calls for helping students learn STEM concepts through project-based learning or by solving real-world problems, which SSEC is doing through it Smithsonian Science for the Classroom and STCMS curricula; as well as its Smithsonian Science for Global Goals program. 

(3) The plan calls for boosting digital literacy, which SSEC is promoting through its Smithsonian Science for Makerspaces program. 

(4) The report notes that while STEM jobs are growing at a faster pace than those in other fields, many groups are disproportionately underrepresented in those occupations, including racial minorities, women, and people with disabilities. SSEC is addressing this issue through its STEM Diversity Initiative

(5) The plan encourages providers to foster STEM ecosystems by engaging educators and individuals within and outside a formal educational setting, and include, among others, school districts; State, local, and Tribal governments; the Federal Government and Federal facilities; corporations; museums and science centers; and other "community partners." The Smithsonian, through its Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) program, fosters a five-pillar ecosystem that includes curriculum developers, professional developers, materials support centers, assessment providers and university evaluators, and community support. LASER is a proven model with a 5-year efficacy study that demonstrates its impact on teacher practice and student learning, particularly for students who are the most underserved by STEM. For the results of the LASER study, go to: www.ssec.si.edu/laser-i3.

(5) And finally, as Jeff Weld, senior policy advisor for STEM education in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted: "We will have premium demand on professional development services." SSEC agrees, and as such, provides Professional Development to teachers and leaders across our nation and world.

As the report notes, "Basic STEM concepts are best learned at an early age—in elementary and secondary school—because they are the essential prerequisites to career technical training, to advanced college-level and graduate study, and to increasing one's technical skills in the workplace." SSEC's mission is to transform the teaching and learning of STEM for students throughout our nation and world. To learn more, contact us at: https://ssec.si.edu/contact-us

Dr. Carol O'Donnell and Smithsonian Secretary Dr. David Skorton

Several news outlets covered the release of the report. To read the coverage, go to: 


(A) Education Week 

(B) Education Dive 

(C) US News and World Report

(D) American Institute of Physics 

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About the Author

Dr. Carol O'Donnell



Carol O’Donnell is the Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), a unit of the Smithsonian Institution that is dedicated to transforming the learning and teaching of science throughout the nation and world. In this role, Carol is responsible for all operational activities and planning for the unit, including building awareness for K-12 science education reform among State and district leaders; conducting programs that support the professional growth of K-12 science teachers and school leaders; and, overseeing all research and curricular resource development, philanthropic development, and administration. In this capacity, Carol also serves as the US representative on the Global Council of the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) Science Education Programme (SEP), the global network of the science academies. Carol also serves on the Subcommittee on Federal Coordination in STEM Education (FC-STEM), which advises and assists the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM). In this role, Carol served as one of the co-authors of the 2018 National Science & Technology Council’s 5-year CoSTEM strategic plan.

Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Carol was a leader at the US Department of Education for nearly a decade, supporting States and districts as they built their capacity to implement and sustain education reforms and achieve continued improvement in student outcomes; she also oversaw the Cognition and Student Learning program of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). A former K-12 teacher and curriculum developer, Dr. O’Donnell is still in the classroom today, serving on the part-time faculty of the Physics Department at The George Washington University.

Carol has expertise in education policy, professional development, cognition and student learning, education research, and curriculum development. She has spoken extensively about Women in STEM, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), diversifying the STEM teaching workforce, educating youth across the globe on the complex socio-scientific issues that underlie the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Dr. O’Donnell earned her Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Pittsburgh, Master of Science in Geosciences from Mississippi State University (MSU), and her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on science education from The George Washington University (GWU). 

Read about the latest SSEC news in the Director's Corner.