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



Dr. Carol O’Donnell is the Senior Executive and Director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC), an organization of the Smithsonian Institution dedicated to transforming K-12 Education through Science™ in collaboration with communities across the globe. In her role at the Smithsonian (a non-profit with quasi-governmental status), Carol serves as the US representative on the Global Council of the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) Science Education Programme (SEP), an appointment by the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; and she serves on the UN Broadband Commission Working Group on School Connectivity: Hybrid Learning. Carol also represents the Smithsonian on the Subcommittee on Federal Coordination in STEM Education (FC-STEM), which advises and assists the Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) of the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the Executive Office of the President. In her role on the Program Committee for the International Dialogue on STEM Education, Carol co-authored the position paper on “STEM Education for Sustainable Development” (http://bit.ly/3a3ObkS). Prior to joining the Smithsonian, Carol was a group leader at the US Department of Education, supporting States’ and districts’ implementation of ESEA programs; she also oversaw the Cognition and Student Learning research grant program of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Carol is the winner of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Graduate Research Excellence Award; National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity “Unsung Hero Award;” and the University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Alumni Award. She was honored to receive on behalf of SSEC the Smithsonian Innovation in Education Award for their work on the “Smithsonian Science for Global Goals” project. Dr O’Donnell is the Principal Investigator on an NSF INCLUDES and DRK-12 planning grant award for SSEC’s work in “Building Networks and Enhancing Diversity in the K-12 STEM Teaching Workforce” and PI of the grant “Integrating Inclusive/Universal Design and Accessibility Strategies into K-12 STEM Classrooms.” 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, where she earned her doctorate. Her TedX talk demonstrates her passion for integrating digital and physical interactions in science classrooms.

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