Using Collaboration to Increase STEM Engagement for Girls at the AISES National Conference

AISES The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) National Conference has become the premier event for Native American STEM professionals and students attracting over 1,600 attendees from across the country. Held annually since 1978, the AISES National Conference is a one-of-a-kind, three-day event convening high school juniors and seniors, college and graduate students, teachers, workforce professionals, corporate partners, and all members of the “AISES family.” Representatives from all over the US come together in a flurry of various workshops, networking opportunities, and career development events. To that end, NGCP had the opportunity to host a session this year at their annual conference entitled Using Collaboration to Increase STEM Engagement for Girls.

In this interactive, dynamic session, I was privileged to lead activities and discussions demonstrating the NGCP model for sustainable collaboration among cross-sector stakeholders. Collaboration, as many of us already know, is a key strategy for leveraging resources and strengthening the capacity of professionals to provide high-quality activities to K-12 girls in STEM.

NetworkingAfter learning what the NGCP is and the number of programs as well as the number of girls (and boys) served to date, participants did a little Collaboration Networking. I am always amazed at the reception of this activity as I often see a couple of people that have that “please don’t make me talk to someone” look on their face and those are often the ones that, when you bring everyone back together, are often the first to say, “I wish I had more time.” This session was no different and there were a few interesting connections made with participants from different parts of the country wanting to continue their conversation. What is always great about this activity is that it leads into and facilitates understanding of what I feel is one of the biggest strengths of the NGCP – collaboration – how do you do it and why is so important. Collaboration Networking makes it evident how collaborating and partnering allows us to leverage resources, increase the efficiency, effectiveness and capacity of our programs which ultimately increases opportunities and experiences for girls in STEM.

Finally, after all the components and activities the NGCP and the local Collaboratives provide, we ended with a Collaboration Mash-Up. Participants had 10 minutes to work in groups of 2-3 and come up with a collaboration project that leveraged resources each of them possessed through their organizations as well as a seed grant of $1,000. Naturally, when you say $1,000, everyone looks at you like your crazy. But, what I love about this activity is participants really have to stop and think. It’s not just, what are we going to do, but how do we pull that off? And, like clock work, all the groups seemed to create truly interesting and often quite innovative projects. My favorite for this workshop was a group of 4 people, all from different parts of the country that had met during Collaboration Networking, came up with a project for a college prep program for Native American youth to meet and work with mentors from all over the US in various STEM fields. As this group wrapped up, their comment was, “but $1,000 would only be a drop in the bucket.” I was so impressed with their idea and the way they laid it out that I quickly asked the question to everyone, “Do you think there are funders out there that would fund a project like this?” and the great thing about a good Collaboration Mash-Up, is that there usually isn’t anyone in the room that could deny that possibility. It really hits home with everyone.

Lou Papai

Up until about 5 months ago, I will admit that I had absolutely no idea that such a professional society existed. I’ve been working in gender equity and cultural competency for several years now and I thought I had come across every professional group known. From the moment I arrived to the moment I left, I was surrounded by people of every race, color, and nationality and was amazed at their sense of community and focus to create and engage all who attended in their vision and mission. It was truly inspiring and because of this, I am compelled continue to follow this professional society and community as they seek to fulfill their mission.

Contributed by Lou Papai, Director of Education at Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Science Center and the Collaborative Lead for the Louisiana STEM Girls Collaborative Project.