A banner with the BoSTEM logo (YouTube)

The EIR grant program funds hundreds of organizations throughout the country, all of whom are engaged in forward-thinking, even boundary-pushing work. The InProgress interview series conveys the breadth and excitement of our diverse grantees by letting them explain their work in their own words. These aren’t success stories, exactly, but portraits of ongoing work, with all the inspiration and obstacles that implies.

For this installment we hear from Joe Rosenbaum, Project Director for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay’s BoSTEM initiative, which is funded by an EIR grant.

 

EIR: What kind of work is BoSTEM doing with its EIR grant?

ROSENBAUM: Through the EIR grant, BoSTEM is creating a coordinated system for opportunity and quality engagement for middle school students throughout greater Boston around STEM. We work on three different levels: student, program, and systems.

  • Student: Middle schoolers participate in STEM activities through afterschool and summer programs. In order to provide more relevance to their day-to-day lives and expand awareness of potential careers, United Way provides opportunities for career exposure that is hands-on, meaningful, and engaging for students. We do this through field trips to local STEM companies, and by having professionals volunteer at the programs themselves.
  • Program: We currently partner and support 12 afterschool and summer programs. A cornerstone of BoSTEM is the use of data from the youth and educator perspectives, as well as a neutral party, to create a feedback cycle for enhancing quality, which will ultimately improve student outcomes. Partners are provided access to free professional development and coaching aligned with their needs to focus on areas of improvement, and they share best practices within the network through participation in a Community of Practice.
  • System: BoSTEM utilizes the learnings from the student and program level to improve the ecosystem. We convene diverse stakeholders in order to enhance the quality of STEM education in the greater Boston area through our quarterly Advisory Council. The Council is comprised of leaders from afterschool and summer programs, STEM companies, the public school district, the City, STEM institutions, and others. The purpose of these meetings is to tackle system-wide challenges, with input from the various sectors needed to drive change. By including the corporate sector in the council, we also ensure that our professional development and coaching incorporates the most up-to-date content and practice directly from leaders in the STEM business sector.

EIR: How far along are you in your grant?

ROSENBAUM: We’re halfway through the second year.

EIR: What’s been the biggest challenge?

ROSENBAUM: One of BoSTEM’s most challenging obstacles so far has been improving the career knowledge of our students about STEM jobs. We consistently see STEM interest and aspirations increasing, but knowledge of the actual careers available to students remains has remained low. We believe this is partly because educators themselves are unaware of the current STEM careers available, many of which may not have even existed when they were the same age as the students.

In order to improve student career knowledge, BoSTEM is working to bridge the gap between companies and the educators through externships. Externships will be opportunities at STEM companies for educators to learn more about the local industries, the types of jobs available, and the skills needed to succeed. BoSTEM will also be incorporating more explicit career discussion during the workplace field trips.

EIR: What’s an unexpected lesson you’ve learned so far?

ROSENBAUM: It has been surprising how interconnected Boston is as a STEM community. We aren’t called “The Hub” for nothing. At the outset we believed it would be difficult to engage deeply with the corporate sector, to connect them in meaningful ways to our nonprofit partners due to time constraints or competing priorities. Instead, each connection we make leads to more, and some in places we weren’t expecting to find them. For example, last year we happened to meet the Director of Public Programs at the Boston Society of Architects, which is essentially across the street from United Way’s offices, and we didn’t even know it. Since then we’ve hosted multiple field trips, a Community of Practice, and a STEM leadership panel discussion during STEM Week at their space. Another example is that employees who have participated in a field trip with BoSTEM in the past move on to other local STEM companies, which is a potential loss for us. Instead, we are starting to see them participate in BoSTEM field trips at their new company!