Last summer in Dallas (TX), Omaha (NE) and Orange County (CA), a few thousand middle-school kids from impoverished communities had an extraordinary experience. For the first time for most, they attended a summer program and discovered how interesting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can be. They brought their own curiosity and smarts to unraveling complicated challenges, and they experienced that spark of excitement you get when you are not only interested in something, but good at it too. Through it all, the message they got from the adults in their communities was that they are worth believing in, they are worth investing in, and there are high expectations for their success.
Imagine if millions of other young people, facing the similar tough odds, had the similar experiences? And what if those experiences were not singular, but sustained over time, to build confidence and capacity and support these young people to make it in STEM or their other chosen pursuits? That kind of effort could certainly tip the odds – not only for these children to succeed, but also for the world’s chances of solving our most pressing scientific and technological challenges.
That is the key idea behind Imagine Science, supported by STEM Next. The programs in Dallas, Omaha and Santa Clara are a collaboration among four of the nation’s largest youth-serving organizations: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the National 4-H Council, the YMCA of the USA and Girls, Inc. Together these organizations reach 18 million young people a year. For the first time ever, these organizations are coming together to reach the kids that none of them have reached before. And they are co-developing high-quality STEM learning opportunities, leveraging the expertise of each organization, and sharing information and innovations, like the Click2Science portal to train afterschool teachers to lead science activities.
Imagine Science is dreaming big: by 2020 the aspirational goal is to reach 4 million youth in 600+ communities in nearly every state. Four million youth who haven’t participated in STEM programming before. Four million new sparks of unlimited potential.
Imagine Science is a great example of how STEM Next is helping innovators build on their strengths to meet new challenges. With STEM Next support, Imagine Science combines the expertise and reach of our national youth-serving organizations with high quality tools and models for excellent out-of-school time STEM learning. The entire effort is focused on finding and engaging kids who are not being reached now. Thanks in part to Noyce Foundation support, the goal of increasing equity in informal STEM learning is central to researchers and practitioners in the field. Imagine Science will learn from and contribute to this critical conversation. In summer 2016, Imagine Science will be back in Dallas, Omaha and Orange County, and will also add 3 new communities to its pilot efforts before expanding to 12 total communities by 2017. Stay tuned to find out what happens next!