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Kauffman Foundation grant supports KC STEM Alliance efforts to build STEM-ready workforce

Since 2011, the KC STEM Alliance has shaped the regional implementation of two nationally renowned STEM education programs–Project Lead The Way, a project-based learning curriculum that now reaches PreK through 12th grade students, and FIRST Robotics, a K-12 extracurricular program that uses a sports model to inspire interest in STEM skills and careers.

With support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in the form of a new three-year, $1.1 million grant, KC STEM Alliance will continue this work while also nurturing the region’s STEM Learning Ecosystem, a collaboration among schools, youth programs, museums, science centers, corporations and STEM-related nonprofits to improve access, equity and quality of STEM programming across the region.

With recent reports such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce 2030 showing a daunting gap between demand and availability of STEM workers in the region, the KC STEM Alliance’s mission remains as important as ever, said Executive Director Martha McCabe.

“We focus on identifying approaches that can be scaled and that get results,” McCabe said. “We’re seeing tremendous increases in participation in both Project Lead The Way and FIRST, both of which have proven to be effective at encouraging students to pursue STEM degrees and careers.”

“And both programs also emphasize the soft skills our region’s employers have identified as essential,” she added.

KC’s STEM Learning Ecosystem

But McCabe said successful implementation of these programs is only the beginning: to build a truly STEM-ready workforce, STEM should be integrated into a student’s daily life.

“It’s important for our young people to see how STEM is integrated into everything we do and to have experiences both in school and out that will encourage persistence and help them build confidence in their STEM skills,” McCabe said. “But we also know barriers can prevent equal access to these experiences.”

To address these challenges, KC STEM Alliance collaborates with other STEM-focused organizations to strengthen the region’s STEM learning ecosystem. Kansas City was among the first metros in the nation officially designated as a STEM Learning Ecosystem by the STEM Funders Network. Today, the cross-sector leadership team has developed work groups to address key barriers such as transportation and is developing ways for the community to quickly find and share STEM opportunities.

This integrated approach is earning Kansas City national recognition. In late June, McCabe attended the first state-federal STEM Education Summit hosted by The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at the invitation of Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer. The summit convened a diverse group of state STEM leaders, including officials from governors’ offices, K-20 educators, workforce and industry representatives, state policy experts and non-government organization executives.

And earlier in the spring, McCabe shared what’s worked in Kansas City with 22 state workforce policy teams at the Western Pathways Conference in Salt Lake City at the invitation of Project Lead The Way President and CEO Vince Bertram.

McCabe constantly scouts for ways to connect organizations to create new opportunities for youth. For example, the Kansas City Zoo now uses elements of PLTW’s curriculum in its education programs and camps. And youth organizations such as Boys & Girls Club and social service agencies like Operation Breakthrough use PLTW to offer engaging STEM experiences to the youth they serve.

“We are all in this together,” McCabe said. “Our role is to champion STEM across the community and we do that by sharing best practices and looking for creative ways various organizations can work together.”

About KC STEM Alliance

KC STEM Alliance is a collaborative network of educators, business partners and organizations that inspires interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers to generate a robust workforce of related professionals for our community.