Inventory of Statewide or Regional STEM Networks
Magliaro and Ernst (2018) have produced a report and inventory of Statewide STEM Education Networks in the United States. The report provides an analysis of the mission statements, staffing models, governance, and programmatic activities of over 300+ STEM education networks. The inventory includes the name of the networks, location, contact information, website, and the mission/vision/purpose of the networks.
Magliaro, S. G. and Ernst, J. (2018). Inventory of Statewide STEM Education Networks. Blacksburg, VA: Center for Research in SEAD Education, Virginia Tech. Access at https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1OdVxPvbl7Wwbm3KYsWLzMpFSa-nxCtEM
Leadership of the RAC
Susan Magliaro, Director, Center for Research in SEAD Education (formerly VT-STEM), Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, Virginia Tech - email@example.com
Additional RAC Team Members:Jeremy Ernst, Associate Director, Office for Educational Research and Outreach, School of Education, Virginia Tech, and Janice Morrison, President and CEO, Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM
Type of project
Research: Overall, this project will yield a research synthesis of the state of STEM-related networked enterprises that, when considered as a unit, represent a major investment of social capital, including people, policies, programs, and finances, to advance our nation's impact on the global economy. This inventory will focus on the statewide or regional STEM networks or partnerships that are available in each state and territory in the United States. The analysis will examine key variables related to each network including type of network, mission and goals, activities, infrastructure, funding, staffing, etc.
Cross-sector partnerships to promote engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been in operation in every state and territory across our nation for at least 30 years. These STEM networks have been made possible through dynamic collaborations across P-16, the private sector, community-based organizations, and STEMbased institutions such as museums, science centers, and professional organizations. In addition to providing high-quality STEM experiences for all young people, these partnerships have become a key strategy to address workforce development in the STEM areas, hence attracting more support from business and industry. The notion of "STEM Ecosystems" has been conceptualized and funded through groups like the STEM Funders Network to support the creation and initial operation of communities of practice that "nurture and scale effective science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities for all young people" (http://stemecosystems.org/about/). In a recent working paper, Traphagen and Traill (2014) reported their analysis of 15 leading STEM learning ecosystems to articulate the attributes and strategies that have created successful, sustainable partnerships. Clearly, these networks provide the architecture and motivation to advance STEM literacy, skill building, and, potentially economic development.
The purpose of this study is to create an inventory of the statewide or regional STEM networks or partnerships available in each state and territory in the United States. This inventory will serve as a resource for P-12 schools, higher education, business and industries, community and government agencies, professional organizations, museums, science centers, and citizens at large to advance collaboration, engagement, stakeholder support, and further understanding of best practices to sustain these partnerships.
Using a mixed-methods, phased, "snowball" approach (Creswell & Clark, 2011), the
major goals were to:
- Identify networks that were found on the internet using keywords such as STEM networks, STEM centers, STEM partnerships, and STEM ecosystems. These would be the networks that would be publicly available for any stakeholder to find and make connections.
- Using a survey approach, identify networks through key STEM professional organizations that focused on STEM education engagement or partnerships including the International Technology Education and Engineering Association (ITEEA), the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI), the Network of STEM Education Centers (NSEC), and the American Society of Engineering Educators (ASEE) – Pre-college Division.
- Based on the recommendations from the Advisory Board, contact STEM leaders at the state and national level who would recommend STEM network directors for in-depth interviews on their networks' operations, successes, and challenges that might not appear on the websites.
- Include undergraduate and graduate students from STEM-related majors in the project to promote a research experience, as well as an awareness of the magnitude of this enterprise and possible ways that these networks may impact their future careers.
Based on the literature and recommendations from the project's advisory board and consultant, our operational definition of a STEM network was somewhat broad in order to cast a broad net that could be narrowed as data were compiled and cleaned. As such, our definition is:
"A formal cross-sector partnership designed to advance access to and engagement with high quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning experiences for all:
- Other subject areas (e.g., art, agricultural, health, etc.) may also be a part of the mission.
- Shared goals and respect for each stakeholder's role and needs are central to the collaboration."
The specific information about the design and development of statewide STEM networks was extracted from the website searches (when available) and the interviews:
- Type of network (e.g., regional, statewide, formal/informal education, etc.)
- Mission and goals
- Culture of network locus, partners, practices, etc.
- Activities and events, including meeting structure
- Infrastructure and governance
- Evaluation plan
- Evaluation results; evidence of broader impacts
Overall, STEM networks are operational in all states and some territories. While some networks stood alone, many are nested in a larger coordinating body (i.e., central leadership, satellite hubs or regional networks with context-specific foci). As such, this makes counting mutually exclusive networks problematic. For this preliminary report, the numbers represent the networks in operation at each geographic level, with the knowledge that many of the state networks are part of a larger organization (e.g., STEMX), and many of the regional networks may be counted along with the parent state-level organization (e.g., the 11 hubs that are funded through STEM Oregon). Also, for clarity, here are the operational definitions for "locus" or geographic level identification:
- International: Organizations that provide services across the world but are based in the United States (e.g., ITEEA).
- National: Organizations that provide services across states (e.g., STEMX).
- Statewide: Organizations that provide services across an entire state (e.g., state departments of education, or the Arizona SciTech Ecosystem).
- Regional: Organizations that provide services within a particular region of a state that includes multiple counties and/or jurisdictions (e.g., SySTEMic Solution, Northern Virginia)
- Metro: Organizations that provide services across a metro area or city's boundaries (e.g., Newark STEAM Coalition, Newark, NJ).
Based on our current data, approximately 243 STEM networks have been identified through internet searches, surveys, and interviews. These data are based on three separate internet searches, three completed surveys (n=97), and 12 interviews. Data sources still outstanding include the ASEE/Pre-College survey and 10 interviews. As of now, we have identified networks at the following levels:
- International (1)
- National (31)
- Statewide or regional (187)
- Metro (24)
Network leadership depends on the nature of the network and its source of funding. When based at a university, leadership is provided by a director, often a faculty member in the STEM disciplines. When based in a state department of education, leadership is provided by the department employee best aligned with the focus of the network (i.e., academic/disciplinary v. career and technical education). When the network is a for-profit or not for-profit, the leader is often identified as a chief operating officer or executive director. In either case, there is likely to be a board of directors, mostly composed of business leaders whose business is a sponsor or funder of the network activities.
A network's staff size, of course, depends on the funding in terms of budget size, source, and stability. Governance depends on the type and location of the network. Communication is largely done via the internet, listservs, and newsletters. In terms evaluation plans or evidence of success, some organizations published their annual reports or brief information about numbers of network event participants. However, this information was not frequently or easily found unless the network was very successful in terms of numbers and funding.
Successes and challenges have primarily been ascertained from the interviews. Across the interviews, common issues that impact an organization's health and future are:
- Money: Funding related to availability of grants, support of state legislators, investment by business and industry, etc.; in most cases, the most stable networks had significant funding through corporate interests.
- Leadership: Leadership experience, turnover, changes in priorities, loss of advocates, etc. all seem to create challenges for directors.
- Staffing: The majority of networks operate with very limited staffing. Directors range from faculty who have the network as part of a workload. Retirees, students, parents, and other volunteers are essential for program delivery for many networks. Again, these issues relate to the nature and source of funding.
- Mission: Networks must be responsive and nimble to ensure that the mission and goals are meeting stakeholder needs, especially those of the funders. Five of the 12 director interviews revealed they were in the midst of re-visioning or reorganization. The reasons for the changes varied from new leadership, to legislative priorities, or a reorganization at an upper level that now impacts the network's focus and operations.
The project's timeline and data collection procedures are:
Phase I: Fall 2016
- Partnered with undergraduate researchers for initial data collection
- Conducted internet searches; development of the spreadsheet using available information
- Identified STEM network leaders for phone interviews
- Developed survey and IRB permission; email distribution of surveys secured
Phase II: Spring 2017
- Partnered with undergraduate and graduate researchers
- Finalized surveys and phone interview protocols
- Conducted phone interviews (n=12) and survey of ITEEA membership (n=7)
- Presented at the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy (CHEP) and NABI Conference
Phase III: Summer 2017
- Gathered feedback from Advisory Board regarding preliminary findings
- Presented at the NSEC Conference
- Conducted surveys of the NABI (N=39) and NSEC (n=51) memberships (completed)
- Aggregated and cleaned available survey data
- Collected data from Jan Morrison/TIES re: statewide networks and the STEM Ecosystem project; also reviewed aggregated data with Morrison for corroboration
- Conducting STEM network director interviews (ongoing)
- Conducting survey of ASEE/Pre-College (ongoing)
- Complete final data cleaning and aggregation
Phase IV: Fall 2017
- Enter negotiations with members of STEM Funders Network about future funding of network inventory project (facilitated by Jan Morrison)
- Complete final report
Summary and Next Steps
The STEM Networks Inventory project is revealing a great deal of effort and resources have been and continue to be invested in the advancement of high quality STEM-related experiences primarily for the P-12 sector. Moreover, there seem to be many, many exciting opportunities available to the public. And, while having an accurate inventory of the networks is still our goal, we are finding that we are learning more about how networks can vary, the impact of a range of contextual variables on any given entity, and the passion that the leaders have and need to have to maintain a vital, productive organization.
Our next steps are as follows:
- Complete the ASEE/Pre-College survey data collection
- Complete the director interviews
- Aggregate and clean all data
- Analyze the data to develop categories of information and subsequent themes
- Finalize the spreadsheet inventory
- Create a directory of STEM leaders
- Meet with STEM Funders
- Complete the final report with directory
 All surveys were distributed by the hosting professional organization.
Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
STEM Ecosystems (August 17, 2017). http://stemecosystems.org/.
Traphagen, K., & Traill, S. (2014). How cross-sector collaborations are advancing STEM learning (working paper). Los Altos, CA: The Noyce Foundation.