In June, STEMx awarded Challenge Grants to its members in three states so that each could hold a meeting (or series of meetings) on a pressing STEM education issue. One grant winner, South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science (SCCMS), used its $15,000 award to host the Grand Challenges in SC STEM Summit on Oct. 17 in Columbia. For first impressions gathered from the summit, we contacted Tom Peters, executive director of SCCMS. Collaborating with him on this Q&A is Susie Teague, Upcountry regional coordinator for S2TEM Centers SC, an innovation partnership managed by SCCMS:
Q: What prompted you to convene this meeting, and what did you hope to learn from it?
A: We had two goals when planning this convening. First, we intended to plant the seed for future STEM education partnerships and collaborations. Second, we sought to identify STEM education challenges that are critical to South Carolina through a process relevant to the STEMx Network by asking questions about the broader system of STEM learning in South Carolina including out-of-school time learning and learners of all ages.
Our end was to commit to five systemwide grand challenges within our state that we might successfully master within five years’ time, if we act together to maximize our individual and organizational strengths and resources.
Q: How was this meeting different from others you have held? Did you have speakers, panels, small group discussions or a different format altogether?
A: While we have held STEM summits in the past, dialogue during this convening was centered on research conducted by 100Kin10 — a national network committed to adding 100,000 excellent STEM teachers to U.S. classrooms by 2021 — to identify root causes and possible actions to address the critical shortage of STEM teachers.
Thought leaders from across South Carolina added to this knowledge base through their responses to interview questions designed by 100Kin10 and analyzed by our staff.
Unlike other SC STEM summits, the focus of thought and action came from the participants themselves and was not generated by external speakers, panelists or other presenters. Together, we explored the 100Kin10 Challenge Tree System Map to identify challenges most relevant to our state.
Q: How did you select the attendees?
A: Attendees were known thought and action leaders with interest in STEM. They came from across the state and from all walks of life including business/industry, the arts, out-of-school learning places, government, classrooms and more.
Participants were nominated by regional leaders from the statewide S2TEM Centers SC network, managed by SCCMS (South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science). Additionally, an invitation was extended to representatives from STEMx states.
Q: Were there particularly effective strategies used to provoke discussion?
A: Our team worked very closely with Grace Doramus, director of strategic initiatives at 100Kin10, to devise protocols to engage the participants in networking, exploring the vastness of the STEM Challenge Tree System Map, and then taking a deep dive into a subset of challenges of each participant’s choice.
Particularly effective was the use of South Carolina interview data to identify a set of Super Themes for the challenge map, as organizers for the themes, challenges and catalysts already identified by 100Kin10.
Also, having an expert facilitation team from the S2TEM Centers SC network helped greatly to ensure that dialogue and discussion stayed on point and yielded the results we were after.
Q: What were the main takeaways from the meeting and any ideas about implementation?
A: First and foremost, the meeting validated our contention that STEM leaders would rally around the strategy of identifying a few catalytic challenges to move STEM teaching and learning forward.
As we had expected, the task of reviewing more than 100 challenges and whittling them to five was too daunting for a single day. That said, we are many steps closer, and Grand Challenges summit participants have made personal commitments to broaden their networks in the SC STEM community and to share what they have learned with their colleagues.
Q: Is there anything else you could share about this session?
A: This session, while extensive and effective, is only a beginning. Findings from the summit will be presented to multiple audiences in the coming months and refined into actionable challenges. We look forward to sharing our work at the STEMxchange in May.
Below, read the complete “Systems Map” created by 100kin10