The White House sure has seen a lot of Pittsburgh lately. There was the time Mayor Bill Peduto was invited to the first White House Maker Faire in 2014. Also last year, local superintendents were honored there for their schools’ technology integration efforts. In 2013, a Pittsburgh teenager showed off his research at the White House Science Fair.
But President Obama hasn’t seen the last of the City of Bridges. In November, Pittsburgh will be one of 27 cities to convene at the president’s home to share STEM learning advice and accomplishments. The occasion is a “Community of Practice,” one of the perks of being selected to participate in the $1.8 million STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative.
The program was started by the STEM Funders Network (SFN), a consortium of 23 philanthropies and corporations that support STEM learning. The concept emerged from an SFN-funded report, which encouraged investments in communities with strong in-school and out-of-school learning ecosystems, said SFN co-chair Gerald Solomon.
In addition to funding, the communities will receive technical assistance like site visits, coaching, and remote support. SFN is also working with the Corporation for National and Community Service to place an AmeriCorps volunteer at each location.
Applicants were required to have several elements in place, including a committed public education leader, an afterschool or out-of-school program, a community organization, and business involvement. Fifty cities applied and SFN could not bring themselves to turn any away.
“All were so interested in doing this that we decided to take all 50 and figure out how to make this work,” Solomon said. “Our ultimate goal is by the year 2020, we want to have up and standing 100 communities around the country that have a true integrative, cross-collaborative approach to STEM education and learning, from preK to higher ed, across formal and informal platforms.”
SFN ultimately divided the 50 communities into two cohorts: the 23 cities whose ecosystems are in a more nascent state, and the 27, including Pittsburgh, that already have strong networks.
“Pittsburgh has the right players, the right passion, and the funders to be able to do the heavy lifting to make this happen,” Solomon said. “They’re in many ways the exemplar of where we see this initiative moving.”
For Solomon and his colleagues, STEM education is a necessary response to a changing world.
“If this country is going to be able to maintain any kind of leadership role in the world,” he said, “we need to have students who can critically think, who can analyze, who can collaborate, who can work together and do the types of didactic and innovative activities that the workforce today needs.”