Local STEM collaboration serves as national template

Washington University in St. Louis’ Institute for School Partnership (ISP), along with local business leaders Sigma-Aldrichand Monsanto, presented at a nation-wide conference this fall, giving new insights on both the impact and importance of corporate partnerships in STEM education.

The annual Commit!Forum conference in New York City October 2014 focused on bringing together business executives and thought leaders committed to responsible business practices and sustainability. Conference tracks covered a range of topics from diversity and inclusion to building a culture of purpose.

In a track focused on the development of the American workforce, one presentation focused on the country’s ability, or lack thereof, to fill a growing number of STEM-related jobs in the future. Victoria May, executive director of the ISP, Monsanto’s Vice President of Global Contributions Deborah Patterson, Monsanto’s vice president of Global Contributions and Jeffrey Whitford, Sigma-Aldrich’s manager of Global Citizenship, shared their insight on this growing concern among today’s businesses and corporations. Their solution to this problem lies in community collaboration.

“The fastest growing fields of employment are STEM related. In Missouri, three of every four jobs are STEM related, and nationally, we expect a 17-percent increase in these jobs by 2018,” conference presenter Jeffrey Whitford said, as he explained the purpose behind the creation of the STEMpact collaboration. “This means that we need to address this issue before we no longer can meet the demands of the industry.”

STEMpact, a collaboration founded in 2010, takes on the task of improving STEM education in St. Louis with a team that includes 13 of the region’s largest STEM companies, Washington University and other local academic institutions, and a number of STEM educators at the K-8 level. The participation of each of these partners is crucial to a successful collaboration. With educators to identify the problems in current STEM education models, higher education to provide cutting-edge research and corporate leaders to forecast the needs of tomorrow’s workforce, STEMpact has the ability to formulate best practices that encompass both present and future needs.

“We founded STEMpact because, as corporations, community members and academics, we felt a responsibility to support a growing need in our community,” said Patterson, who was also a conference presenter and STEMpact leader. “We knew that together, we could move STEM education forward as a region in a thoughtful and strategic way.”

After just four years, STEMpact is already beginning to see success in not just test scores but in student and teacher engagement. “Hearing teachers say that they’ve gained or mastered new skills that will help them be more successful in the classroom demonstrates an impact that will not only last through one school year but throughout that teacher’s entire career,” Whitford said.

It is this type of success that May, Patterson and Whitford hoped to bring to business leaders nationwide at the Commit!Forum conference. Together, they led a session that helped attendees strategize ways that they, too, could create a successful collaboration by leveraging resources within their own businesses and communities. “Developing similar collaborations, like STEMpact, around the country can help address this issue by not only leveraging human capital but also financial resources to support best practices in professional development for educators,” Whitford said.

Initiatives like STEMpact are ones that benefit everyone involved. With improved STEM education strategies, teachers instill knowledge and passion in young students that put them on the pathway to working in STEM jobs, jobs that pay almost $9 more per hour than their non-STEM counterparts. “It is exciting that Washington University gets to be a part of this process. With the help of STEMpact partners, we are finding ourselves right in the center of redefining STEM education and putting new strategies in place that yield real results,” May said.

May stated that she hopes through this conference, the model that STEMpact has carefully tested over the past four years can be used as a tool for communities nationwide, changing the way that business leaders think about collaboration.

To learn more about STEMpact, visit their website or watch the follow video: