By Stephanie García, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2022 •
A learning ecosystem harnesses unique collaborations in symbiosis to deliver equitable STEM learning for all children. A STEM Learning Ecosystem encompasses schools; community settings, such as after-school and summer programs, science centers and museums; and informal experiences at home and in a variety of environments that together constitute a rich array of learning opportunities for young people. There are designated STEM Learning Ecosystems across the world, with a large presence here in the United States.
Texas has three STEM Learning Ecosystem designations: (1) The Texas EcosySTEM is a statewide network that operates through all 20 Education Service Centers as STEM Hubs, maintained by the Texas Education Agency. (2) The Greater Austin STEM Ecosystem serves as a connector and coordinator, ensuring STEM cohesion and that programming is accessible to all students throughout the Austin area. (3) The Alamo STEM Ecosystem is an active, cross-sector partnership working to bridge youth, community and the workforce in San Antonio and the surrounding region. The image above shows representatives from the cross-sector partnerships and includes the main stakeholders they aim to serve well: students.
IDRA currently leads the Alamo STEM Ecosystem. As IDRA’s STEM and gender equity education associate, I bring in IDRA’s asset-based philosophy and collaborate with ecosystem community partners to focus on equity and innovation through all current projects and initiatives. We align and connect efforts to strengthen and broaden participation in the local STEM pipeline (from cradle to career), and we center and elevate student and family voices for improving students’ access and sense of belonging in informal and formal STEM education.
Industry, educators and students can learn so much from each other. We see this in action at the monthly Alamo STEM Ecosystem networking meetings (open to all) and its annual education conference (the next one is on February 11, 2023). The image below is from a demonstration to a group of STEM educators and professionals who were learning about STEM research, degrees and careers in aviation (drones specifically), computer science, biomedical engineering, structural engineering and mechanical engineering.
As the ecosystem recently led a tour of the St. Mary’s University campus, many “light bulb” moments happened, especially regarding ways to bridge youth, community and workforce. Discussion items included summer camps, field trips, guest speakers, student-led projects, competitions, internships and mentors. Participants took multiple action items back to their respective organizations and institutions, as well as to Alamo STEM Ecosystem working groups and initiatives.
The Alamo STEM Ecosystem seeks to build stronger connections with students and to support them as they graduate from one STEM program to another. Mentorship, feedback and guidance are crucial for students as they persist through the STEM pipeline (Garcia, 2020). Many partners, like San Antonio’s DoSeum, have youth and community engagement as their top priority. Pictured here is a community conversations event the DoSeum hosts to bring youth and family voices into the development and design of their museum exhibits. The Alamo STEM Ecosystem will continue to strengthen its student and family connection, so stay tuned for its upcoming youth network!
San Antonio is ranked Number 2 in the country for cybersecurity, so its STEM Ecosystem offers relevant formal and informal learning opportunities and experiences for students. For example, Alamo STEM Ecosystem members met recently with the Defense STEM Education Consortium and the Department of Defense STEM to discuss areas of growth at the Palo Alto College STEM Center (pictured below). The consortium shared helpful resources and ideas for potential collaborations.
If you are interested in connecting with the Alamo STEM Ecosystem and being added to its email list, contact Dr. Stephanie Garcia (firstname.lastname@example.org). Learn about events at AlamoSTEMecosystem.org/Events. You can find a STEM Ecosystem in your area at STEMecosystems.org.
Stephanie García, Ph.D., is IDRA’s STEM and gender equity education specialist and directs the IDRA VisionCoders program. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]