KC STEM Alliance works to close Missouri’s tech talent pipeline gap

According to a report from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, by 2030, Missouri will face a shortage of 200,000 qualified workers. The report outlines a number of additional findings that point back to deficits within the state’s STEM talent pipelines. The KC STEM Alliance is helping to help those gaps by exposing students from all…

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KC STEM Alliance outreach efforts to connect girls with opportunities in tech.

According to a report from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, by 2030, Missouri will face a shortage of 200,000 qualified workers. The report outlines a number of additional findings that point back to deficits within the state’s STEM talent pipelines.

The KC STEM Alliance is helping to help those gaps by exposing students from all over the city to STEM education programs.

KC STEM Alliance is a collaborative network of educators, business partners and organizations that inspires interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers to generate a robust workforce of related professionals for the community.

“To build a truly STEM-ready workforce, it’s important for our young people to see how STEM is integrated into everything we do and to have experiences both in school and out that will encourage persistence and help them build confidence in their STEM skills,” said Martha McCabe, KC STEM Alliance Executive Director.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation recently awarded the KC STEM Alliance $1.1 million to further expand key STEM education programs.

The grant allow the alliance to continue to expand two of its nationally renowned STEM education programs—Project Lead The Way and FIRST Robotics. The grant will also help KC STEM Alliance nurture the region’s STEM Learning Ecosystem, a collaboration among schools, youth programs, museums, science centers, corporations and STEM-related nonprofits to improve access, equity and quality of STEM programming across the region.

“The need for services is widespread across the region,” said McCabe. “All students need early exposure to robust STEM education so that they can begin to develop their STEM identity.”

Alliance-supported initiatives reached 72,799 students in 2018, including 44,000 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.

McCabe said the program is helping children develop into creative problem solvers that will then go out into the community and solve real-world problems when they’re older.

“What we hear from our corporate partners is that they need a more diverse workforce so their solutions are better,” said McCabe. “We are very intentional when we look at both diversity of gender and diversity of race and ethnicity because everyone comes to the table with a different set of experiences and that’s helpful to our companies.”

KC STEM Alliance has additional programming to close the gender gap. Through their Girls in Tech initiative, the alliance connects female students with women working in the tech sector in Kansas City. They spend time together exploring coding, usually through a code.org Hour of Code exercise, in a real-world work setting.

Through the Girls in Tech initiative, the alliance connect female students with women working in the tech sector.

“We know that girls make decisions about STEM as early as third grade,” said McCabe. “If we have opportunities to expose 4 to 9-year-olds to really engaging STEM opportunities and they see that [we have really engaging STEM opportunities for them], then we can begin to do mentor matching where the corporate partners [they’re matched with] actually look like them, and they see this as a real possibility.”

Kansas City was among the first metros in the nation officially designated as a STEM Learning Ecosystem by the STEM Funders Network. Today, the cross-sector leadership team has developed work groups to address key barriers such as youth transportation and parent engagement, and is developing ways for the community to quickly find and share STEM opportunities.

McCabe said that since the alliance started in 2011, there have already been successful changes in unifying the city’s STEM ecosystem.

“The largest change has been the scalability, especially of Project Lead the Way,” said McCabe. “By functioning as one ecosystem, all of our school partners stick together with regularity. We have public schools from both sides of the state line, urban schools sitting next to suburban and rural schools, and also private and charter schools sitting together and learning from one another.”

KC STEM Alliance surveys high school seniors as they leave the program. Those seniors have also reported changes in their decisions to study STEM.

“For Project Lead the Way, 88 percent of those students said that the program reinforced their decision to study STEM,” said McCabe. “From FIRST Robotics, it was 90 percent.”

McCabe said the KC STEM Alliance still need additional help to change the STEM ecosystem, including strategic thought leadership on the advisory board, volunteers in classrooms and at events, learning from corporate partners to share with teachers and coaches, insight from parents who work for alliance corporations, and corporate partners to help with education and fiscal policy.

“We are all in this together,” McCabe said. “Our role is to champion STEM across the community, and we do that by sharing best practices and looking for creative ways various organizations can work together.”

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Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.

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