26 Feb 2018 Bayer transportation grant improves youth access to STEM experiences
Regional work group studying youth access to transportation for out-of-school programs
A recent grant from Bayer will help more students in the Kansas City region engage in science, technology, engineering and math outside the classroom. The $10,000 grant to Science City provides a transportation scholarship fund so more students can experience field trips at the 92,000-square-foot science center in Kansas City’s historic Union Station.
Applications for the grant are open now through April 13 for Science City visits to be completed by April 27. (See who qualifies and application details.)
“Scholarships like this allow Union Station to deliver on our mission of science education by addressing a key barrier to broader participation–lack of access to transportation,” said LeAnn Smith, Director of STEM Programming & Outreach for Science City/Union Station. “It’s a big issue for schools struggling to pay for field trips.”
Transportation Think Tank
Because transportation is also an issue for many families who want their students to experience STEM outside the classroom, Smith participates in a regional work group studying this very issue.
The group is part of a broader effort to improve access, equity and quality of STEM learning in Kansas City, ranging from informal drop-in visits to places like Science City or a library program to longer-term activities like a robotics team or coding club. In a March 2017 survey, the work group found that 90 percent of out-of-school providers such as museums, libraries and school-based programs see lack of access to transportation as a barrier to increased participation. Yet only one third of those surveyed can provide that transportation for youth interested in their programs. Grants like Bayer’s can help fill that gap, Smith said.
Last summer the work group, led by Kansas Enrichment Network Director Marcia Dvorak, convened a transportation think tank to dig deeper into the issue.
“We identified a number of transportation barriers–things like bus schedules or routes that don’t line up with activities, long distances to the bus stop or lack of sidewalks; not to mention the challenges of working across the state line,” Dvorak said. “Some parents can’t drive because they don’t have an adequate vehicle, insurance or license; some may have safety concerns or fear of the unknown. And organizations that do come up with creative transportation solutions on their own have to consider liability and logistical issues as well as how to maintain the services long term. Several area superintendents noted sustainability of arranged transportation is very difficult.”
KC STEM Alliance Executive Director Martha McCabe said that although the challenges may seem daunting, tackling these issues will help Kansas City provide an even stronger workforce for its STEM industry, which includes everything from large corporations like Bayer to small tech startups.
“As an organization, we work to build connections between educators, industry and STEM-related organizations so we can increase the number of students engaged in STEM activities in all facets of their lives,” McCabe said. “Our long-term goal is to create a STEM workforce that is diverse, innovative and sustainable.”
The transportation work group is one of several taking shape since Kansas City was named as one of the country’s first STEM learning ecosystems in late 2015 by the STEM Funders Network. Other work groups are considering issues such as parent engagement and technology to make it easier to find and access STEM programs.
“Helping families and students connect with STEM, sparking that interest, and inspiring the next generation of innovators is a cause Bayer continues to champion,” said Lauren Dorsch, Deputy Director, Communications at Bayer Animal Health. “We’re proud and excited to work with community leaders to develop the local talent pool by inspiring, growing and investing in young people right here at home in Kansas City.”