Access and Diversity Occupy Attention at STEM Solutions Meeting

Eric Iversen

Worth it every year

Our fourth time participating in the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference was our fourth time coming away with new friends and potential partners, new ideas to think about, and new energy for helping make engineering part of more students’ K-12 learning experience. It’s just a great meeting, all the way around.

This year in San Diego, the mix of people, sessions, and topics was as rich and stimulating as could be imagined. STEM education thinkers and doers from business, non-profits, government agencies, and educational institutions from PreK to higher ed were in attendance, bringing expertise and energy in abundance.

The U.S. News STEM Solutions meeting draws a rich mix of STEM educators, advocates, and leaders from inside and outside of education.

The U.S. News STEM Solutions meeting draws a rich mix of STEM educators, advocates, and leaders from inside and outside of education.

A flexible format

The meeting featured interesting prepared presentations, but in greater numbers than before, speakers engaged in open-ended discussion panels and informal exchanges. This format allowed depth and space for the speeches and, in the discussion sessions, it gave people room to offer an amazing range of opinions and experiences on a great diversity of topics.

Access and diversity in STEM

In their presentations, speakers explored the common theme of engendering greater access to STEM pathways for more and different kinds of students.

The opening keynote featured a series of senior academic administrators discussing the connections between STEM education and future workforce needs. A concern among all of them was creating opportunities and pathways in STEM for low-income students.

Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, noted that higher education has largely missed the mark:

“This is very, very serious. We are genuinely worried that we are responsible for being part of an ongoing hegemony of the rich and wealthy – those being able to afford to live in the places where they can teach their kids” about STEM disciplines.

Hall of Fame inductees emphasize purpose and relevance

The STEM Solutions Conference is the scene of inductions into the U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame. Among the inductees this year was Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director of the Museum of Science, Boston. Miaoulis has long been making the case that engineering is appealing and relevant to K-12 students and deserving of a place in their education, both as dean of engineering at Tufts University and in his current position.

Ioannis Miaoulis has been arguing for engineering to be part of K-12 education for over 20 years. He was inducted this year in the U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame.

Ioannis Miaoulis has been arguing for engineering to be part of K-12 education for over 20 years. He was inducted this year in the U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame.

In the Hall of Fame discussion session, all inductees emphasized the need to connect STEM learning to ways kids might grow up and change the world for the better. As new Hall of Fame member Susan Hockfield, MIT president emerita, noted, “People are motivated by mission and purpose rather than what they're made to do.”

Paths leading into STEM are many

What do football, the Maker movement, and community colleges have in common?

They all can serve as launching pads for students to pursue STEM education and work paths.

The rest of the program

Among the nearly three dozen panel discussions, speakers dipped into nearly every imaginable topic related to STEM education: diversity and outreach; partnerships with for-profits, non-profits, government agencies, and others; ties to afterschool, career and technical education, and the arts; and implications for higher ed and workforce pathways. We especially enjoyed the sessions on engineering in K-12 curricula and STEM ecosystems.

But clouds above

Darkening the tone of things, as it has over all current education policy discussions, was the specter of the Trump administration’s budget request, which cuts education funding by over $9 billion. As we’ve noted, people really don’t like the White House budget request, which zeroes out funding for STEM education, afterschool programs, and teacher development programs.

Proposed cuts in the White House budget request would take over $9 billion out of education funds this year alone.

Proposed cuts in the White House budget request would take over $9 billion out of education funds this year alone.

Based on an appearance in front of Congress this week by Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, the likelihood of these cuts actually going through is nearly nil. But the request for cuts sets a tone. It signals moves to come by the administration, budget-related or otherwise, that will be challenging for educators and advocates, especially those associated with public education.

Planning for next year

STEM Solutions is a highlight every year on the STEM education calendar. It moves back and forth every year between the east and west coasts. If San Diego was too far to travel, keep the end of next May clear for the next, more nearby opportunity to attend.

Did you go to the meeting this year? What did you learn? What was your favorite part? Please feel free to share with interested colleagues or friends.


Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at eiversen@start-engineering.com

You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEnginNow.

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