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The Critical Need to Invest in STEM Programming in and out of School

Helping today’s underserved youth compete for tomorrow’s jobs

Boys and Girls Club of America

by Elizabeth Fowlkes

The conversation around science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is far from new, but it is also far from over. Workplace digitalization makes it even more urgent for youth to learn technical skills to compete for most jobs. The vast majority of jobs now require digital skills. With no basic digital skills, entire industries are off limits to our most vulnerable populations.

Quality STEM education prepares youth for 21st century careers. It also builds critical thinking skills, fosters collaboration and encourages problem solving. For today’s youth, consistent access to such opportunities and experiences is an essential component of their learning and development – not just contributing to their academic success but to pave the way toward becoming productive citizens in today’s technology-driven world.  

However, even with so many important and impactful initiatives aiming to enhance STEM education, there continues to be a shortage of both interested and adequately prepared K-12 students in STEM subjects, especially among youth of color and young women.

STEM Connections In and Out-of-School

With employment in STEM occupations projected to grow by 8.9 percent from 2014 to 2024 compared to 6.4 percent growth for non-STEM occupations, schools, community organizations and the private sector are working together to improve the landscape so students can have stronger job prospects in STEM-related fields.

Research has shown that out-of-school programs focusing on STEM advance knowledge and increase interest in STEM-related careers. In fact, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which places a strong emphasis on STEM within its programmatic offering, reports that 12th-grade Club members are nearly twice as likely to express an interest in a STEM career as 12th graders nationally. Moreover, the percentage of Club girls who express an interest in STEM careers is more than three times greater than that of their same-aged female peers nationally. This is especially interesting since the majority of Club youth are low-income and may have limited access to technology and resources.  

Investing in Out-of-School STEM is Critical

To complement the traditional academic environment, out-of-school STEM programs provide youth with a safe place to fail and persevere. These programs foster creative exploration in project-based learning environments, offering activities that relate to real-world experiences, which are needed in STEM careers. While out-of-school providers alone cannot inspire the next generation in STEM, they can bring together schools and educational institutions, corporations and government to build greater capacity and support for innovative STEM programs.

One such collaboration is My.Future, a platform that prepares children to thrive in today’s digital world. My.Future, developed in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Comcast NBCUniversal, offers kids and teens opportunities to develop their digital interests with a curriculum that includes over 125 program activities ranging from foundational technology skills to robotics, media making, coding, game design, programming and online journalism. The platform, which can be accessed in schools and at home, in addition to at the Club, also provides educators with a tool they can leverage in the classroom to monitor trends and gaps in learning opportunities for kids, especially those most in need.  The goal is to empower underrepresented youth with the passion and knowledge needed to pursue the estimated 9.2 million jobs available in STEM-related fields by 2020.

“Particularly at our Club sites that are connected to schools, we have been amazed by the collaboration between teachers and after-school providers as a result of the My.Future platform,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “Many teachers are working directly with Club staff to share student development and interests to aid in the growth and success of the child, enabling them to achieve a great future, which is our primary goal. Thanks to our partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, we are able to provide underserved youth the opportunity to develop the technical skills they need to succeed in today’s digital economy and we’re incredibly grateful for their support around this important initiative.”

As a key player in the partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Dalila Wilson-Scott, senior vice president of Community Impact for Comcast Corporation, and president of the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation, notes, “It’s essential for the private sector to invest in our future workforce and work with community partners to recruit talent from all neighborhoods and zip codes. We must ensure that STEM training isn’t confined to the well-funded classroom – and that students, boys and girls alike, in low-income neighborhoods can also access cutting-edge resources that allow them to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.”

To meet the demands of the changing world, and develop the leaders of tomorrow, organizations of all types must work together to create a greater impact. As educators, corporations and non-profit organizations alike strive to maximize success for students, as well as society; STEM education must transcend classroom walls and extend into the community to level the playing field and create equal opportunities for all young people.

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