The Utah STEM Action Center, located in Salt Lake City, recently joined the STEMx multi-state network. Earlier this year, we published a story about their annual hands-on learning event called the Utah STEM Fest. To learn about the Center, its mission and plans, we contacted its director, Tami Goetz, who shared the following:
Q: Tell us about the STEM Action Center in Utah, its history and the work that it’s doing.
A: The STEM Action Center’s mission is to be a leader in promoting STEM, identify STEM best practices in education and connect with industry to ensure Utah’s long-term economic prosperity.
The Center was defined by statute during the 2013 state legislative session. The key to legislative support was the strong advocacy by Utah business partners. Their collective voice was heard, and the STEM Action Center opened its doors with a combination of one-time and ongoing funding July 1, 2013.
The Center has a variety of programs that support STEM education and talent development. These programs are funded with state money and corporate donations provided through the Utah STEM Foundation (the STEM Action Center’s public 501(c)3).
The Center’s programs include:
- Digital learning tools to supplement K-12 math instruction
- Professional learning for K-12 educators
- An elementary educator STEM endorsement program
- An applied science program for 7th and 8th grades
- A high school STEM certification pathway program
- Micro-grants and sponsorships to students, teachers and STEM organizations
- A STEM school designation program
- Mobile STEM classrooms
- STEM for Life (curricula that teaches STEM through recreation, medicine, nutrition and sports)
- A STEM Magic Show for elementary school assemblies
Q: Why join STEMx? How will this membership benefit the STEM Action Center?
A: Our statute allows for the Center to join a national organization. In the beginning, it was like drinking from the “tactical fire hose” for the Center’s team. It was difficult to know what we really needed during the first two years of the Center’s existence.
We have watched how STEMx brings states together to share best practices and strategize collaboratively to address common challenges. We can benefit from those conversations and apply to them our mission and vision. We also can contribute in a more meaningful way to the dialogue between states.
Q: What are your biggest accomplishments so far?
A: Establishing a public 501(c)3. This was much more challenging as a state entity than anticipated, and it took two years and many iterations in the planning process. It has changed the conversation with corporate partners and given us a level of legitimacy that was missing.
I also want to give a big “shout out” to our partners at the Utah State Board of Education, school districts and charter schools. They have worked with us to design and launch the Center, which was a very different and disruptive model (see below). The relationships are strong and continue to grow and help us transform how we collaborate to help our educators and students.
The data are showing that math and science scores, along with interest in STEM careers, have been steadily increasing over the past three years. I think that our work, with our amazing partners in the districts and schools and Utah companies, plays some role in that success.
Q: What are your plans for the immediate future and beyond?
A: To work on a more robust and intentional strategic plan. This is a natural process in the Center, to outgrow a strategic plan that was more appropriate for the start-up. We are no longer in the “toddler phase.” We are now in the “awkward teenager phase,” pushing for greater independence and responsibility. We need a strategic plan that reflects how we get to “adulthood.”
We are also excited about our K-16 Computing Pathway initiative. We have been working closely with our industry partners to address the lack of access for our students to computing courses and provide solutions to a shortage of qualified teachers — all that resulting in articulated pathways, with stackable credentials, to fill the talent needs of Utah companies.
As for beyond, we want to grow an endowment with our public 501(c)3 and ensure that our programs align with the needs of our stakeholders in K-12, industry, higher education, as well as our community and cultural partners.
Q: What policies and practices of the STEM Action Center do you hope to share with other members of STEMx?
A: Our model for governance has been working well. The STEM Action Center was intentionally placed outside of the Utah State Board of Education to incorporate the idea of disruptive innovation. The decision has met with some controversy, but overall it is proving to be effective.
The relationships between the STEM Action Center and the partners at the Utah State Board of Education have grown stronger as a result of this model. We have learned over the past few years how the role and function of each agency can be leveraged more effectively to meet the needs of Utah students and educators.