Smithsonian Science Education Center Hosts "State Leaders in STEM" Pathway at Next Steps Institute for those Striving to Create Robust Statewide STEM Networks

The Smithsonian Science Education Center teamed up with the South Carolina Coalition for Mathematics and Science and the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance to host the 2016 Next Steps Institute in Charleston, SC on September 26-28th. Close to 300 individuals and teams from across the country came together to gain advanced leadership training in one of seven different Pathway topics. Dr. Carol O’Donnell and Katherine Blanchard of the Smithsonian Science Education Center hosted the “State Leaders in STEM” Pathway designed for those striving to create robust statewide or regional STEM networks. Participants engaged in problems of practice to develop an action plan for their own region while learning from experts around the country who are effectively building their statewide STEM initiatives.  This took place over 5 blocks designed to support participants to:

  1. Develop an understanding of the elements necessary to create a strong State or regional STEM education network.
  2. Build a community of professionals committed to improving education for all students.
  3. Draft an action plan for beginning or growing your State or regional STEM network.

Block 1 included Jennifer Zinth from the Education Commission of the States, who identified three components necessary for a State STEM initiative to succeed: (1) statewide coordination/infrastructure; (2) adequate and reliable funding; and, (3) evaluation and quality assurance. These three components served as the foundation for participants to develop their own action plans. Carol discussed the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s LASER (Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform) model, as one model for infrastructure used by districts, States, and Ministries of Education around the world to systemically implement and scale-up STEM education networks.

Block 2 introduced participants to the process of starting a STEM initiative where they took an inventory of the programs and people already existing in their regions. Dr. Reo Pruiett, Director of Programs at Educate Texas and Dr. Paul Ainslie, Managing Director of STEMx member Indiana-STEM focused on key elements that help to identify challenges and support success for an emerging STEM network.

In block 3, “Growing Your STEM Network,” participants took a deeper dive into what it takes to scale up a STEM initiative across the entire State. Participants were introduced to different models for successfully managing STEM initiatives, followed by discussions with Dr. Samuel Houston, CEO of STEMx member North Carolina Science, Math, and Technology Education Center and Wesley Hall, Director of STEMx member Tennessee STEM Innovation Network who shared the work that they have done to scale their networks in different contexts.

Block 4 focused on “Sustaining Your STEM Network” and addressed the common challenges that States face is sustaining and growing an initiative. Presenters from three States—Amber McCulloch from the Washington State Office of the State Superintendent and Brenda Terry of the Alabama Math, Science, Technology and Engineering Coalition for Education(who both discussed how their States used LASER to scale up reform statewide); and, Tom Peters, of STEMx member South Carolina Coalition for Mathematics and Science—shared how they have implemented these models to scale up STEM reform across their State.  

The Pathway closed with a discussion about “Developing Advocates and Partners for STEM Education at the National Level” focused on the work of national STEM Education Networks. Presenters included Dr. Michael Feder, Director of STEMx; Tedd Wells, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of STEMConnector; and Dr. Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation.  Resources were shared with participants, including:

  1. Change the Equation’s  “Vital Signs” portal, which examines the health of K-12 STEM education state by state: http://vitalsigns.changetheequation.org/
  2. Education Commission of the States' policy playbook: “A State Policymaker’s STEM Playbook” http://www.ecs.org/ec-content/uploads/A_State_Policymaker_s_STEM_Playbook.pdf
  3. STEMx report "STEMx Superstars": http://www.stemx.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FINAL-STEMx-Superstars.pdf
  4. STEM Connector's State-by-State analysis: http://www.stemconnector.org/state-by-state 

To learn more about the Next Steps Institute please visit: http://www.thenextstepsinstitute.org/.

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About the Author

Katherine P. Blanchard
Program Manager for Leadership Development and International Programs



Katherine Blanchard is the Program Manager for Leadership Development and International Programs in the Professional Services division of the SSEC, where she has managed and supported a variety of programs across the United States, including STC™ professional development workshops, leadership institutes, and the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers. The main focus of her work has been supporting teachers, schools, and districts in building support and awareness for science education in their communities and working to expand the SSEC’s reach both in the United States and internationally. Prior to coming to the SSEC, Katherine worked for theatre companies in both Belgrade, Serbia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and completed a Fulbright Fellowship teaching English at the University of Belgrade and studying theatre. Katherine graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a BA in Theatre Arts and Political Science. She has completed an MA in International Education from The George Washington University.