New Tools for Transforming Equitable Scale in Informal STEM Programs

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Have you ever been part of an informal STEM program that started locally but expanded to additional locations? Perhaps you developed the program or even led its expansion to more libraries, afterschool sites, or museums. Maybe you played a role in funding the growing program, researching its impact, or evaluating its growth. However you have been involved in scaling informal STEM programs, you have probably encountered challenges, especially when it comes to centering equity.

For decades, the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) and Education Development Center (EDC) have been involved in leading, supporting, and studying scaled-up informal STEM initiatives such as Leap into Science, a network of state leadership teams that empowers educators to lead science and literacy workshops for children and families, and Libraries as Community Hubs for Citizen Science, a network of libraries and other community-based organizations across the country working to engage their users in citizen science. Through our work on scaled informal STEM programs, we have experienced common challenges and pitfalls firsthand. We have also found a lack of research on the unique opportunities and barriers in scaling across informal STEM learning settings. The research that does exist is often rooted in formal K–12 educational reform and misses the unique complexities of informal STEM programs and systems.

To address this research gap, NGCP and EDC collaborated with practitioners across informal STEM learning to co-design a National Science Foundation-funded conference called “Advancing the Conversation on Scaling National Informal STEM Programs” (NSF Grant #2214449). The conference brought together voices from across the field, highlighting those often overlooked in discussions about scaling: the educators and leaders who directly shape the STEM experiences of youth and families. Our collective goal: To rethink how we approach scaling by focusing on equity from the start. 

Following the convening, NGCP, EDC, and conference collaborators co-developed two resources for those interested in equitably scaling informal STEM learning programs and curricula. The resources are for, but not limited to, program developers, implementers, researchers, evaluators, and funders. 

These resources are not how-to guides; instead, they empower you, whichever role you play in informal STEM learning, to ask critical questions regarding scaled programs, focus on equity from the beginning, and include necessary voices in the decision-making processes related to what programs youth and families need and want most.

Excited to dive in and learn more? Register for NGCP’s webinar, cohosted by EDC and practitioners across informal STEM learning spaces, “Scaling STEM Equitably,” on June 4, 2024, at 11 AM Pacific / 2 PM Eastern. The webinar will cover reflections from the field on the challenges and opportunities of collectively navigating equity-centered program scaling. 

Additional Resources:

Tara Cox - brunette with long hair wearing a black shirt

Tara Cox

Senior Manager of Programs and Partnerships, NGCP

Tara Cox is the Senior Manager of Programs and Partnerships at NGCP and is the Principal Investigator of Advancing the Conversation on Scaling National Informal STEM Programs (NSF). Tara has over a decade of experience developing, managing, and leading informal STEM education programs, including Leap into Science (NSF) in partnership with The Franklin Institute and Libraries as Community Hubs for Citizen Science (IMLS), in collaboration with Arizona State University and SciStarter. Tara is passionate about growing and supporting STEM projects that strive to broaden the participation of historically excluded communities. Tara holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Barnard College, Columbia University. Her past experiences include working at The American Museum of Natural History in New York, NY, and The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

Emily Early

Emily Early

Senior Program Manager, NGCP

Emily Early is a Senior Program Manager at NGCP, where she leads numerous national informal STEM education programs. She is passionate about creating sustainable projects and systems that address accessibility and meaningful engagement in STEM for historically excluded communities. Emily is currently the co-principal investigator of “Advancing the Conversation of Scaling National Informal STEM Programs,” an NSF-funded knowledge-building effort bringing together practitioners in informal STEM education to examine what scale looks like across informal learning settings. Emily's experience includes project design and management, professional development and outreach programming, communications, data management, and partnership development. Emily holds an M.S. in Arts Administration from Drexel University's Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. While earning her master's degree, she studied nonprofit management and leadership. 

Erin Stafford - woman with short red hair wearing long sleeved coral colored top

Erin Stafford

Project Director, Education Development Center

Erin Stafford, M.A. has extensive experience collaborating with national nonprofits, federal and state agencies, foundations, cultural institutions, and community organizations to scale their programs, answer their research and evaluation questions, and support organizational learning and data use. With a focus on culturally responsive evaluation and capacity building, Stafford has collaboratively designed and implemented evaluation projects funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Currently, Stafford is the co-principal investigator of the national convening “Advancing the Conversation of Scaling National Informal STEM Programs,” which is co-led with the National Girls Collaborative Project and recently co-led evaluation and learning partnerships focused on equity with the MacArthur Foundation and the National Park Foundation. Prior to EDC, Stafford served as manager of research, evaluation and assessment for the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana and as an internal evaluator at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. She has an M.A. in Social and Cultural Foundations in Education and a graduate certificate in Women and Gender Studies from DePaul University. 

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