- Techbridge Girls, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that introduces girls to chemical engineering, woodworking and other fields to solve problems in their schools and communities, and San Diego Zoo Global, which works with Hawaiian students to reintroduce a native bird into the wild, are among the winners of the UL Innovative Education Award.
- Announced Wednesday, the awards recognize nonprofit programs blending environmental education and STEM. Winners also include San Diego’s Ocean Discovery Institute, which teaches STEM skills through marine environments, Chicago’s Sweet Water Foundation, which engages youth in revitalizing vacant spaces through urban agriculture and art, and Groundswell Michigan, an environmental education program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale working with students to protect the Grand River and the Great Lakes.
- A partnership between the North American Association for Environmental Education and Underwriters Laboratories, the award program began in 2014, and winners provide a combination of school-day and after-school programming as well as professional development for teachers and STEM-related resources for schools.
As schools and districts continue to emphasize STEM throughout the curriculum, experts suggest it’s the opportunities that students have to apply those skills outside of the classroom that will motivate children and youth to pursue STEM fields beyond high school.
A recent annual survey showed that there has been little growth in the percentage of high school girls expressing interest in STEM careers — just 11%. The survey also showed a decline in high school boys saying they were interested in pursuing a STEM-related profession. Projects connected to students’ communities, however, might be more likely to entice students into STEM fields and meet demands in the workforce for employees with STEM skills, Vince Bertram is president and CEO of Project Lead The Way and John McDonald, vice president and chief technology officer of Chevron, wrote several years ago.
“To help close the STEM gap, we need solutions that prepare students for the global economy and for ensuring America’s continued competitiveness,” they wrote. “Hands-on projects and trial-and-error processes effectively bridge theory and practice and bring STEM subjects alive.”
While the winners of the innovation award have school partnerships as part of their model, school leaders might need to reach out to nonprofit organizations and businesses in their communities in order to offer similar learning opportunities to their students.