STEM After School

The push to increase federal funding for STEM education opportunities outside the classroom received a boost last week, as U.S. senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Mark Begich (D-AK) announced that they were re-introducing the Innovation Inspiration School Grant Program.  The effort would reward schools with innovative extracurricular STEM activities, and go towards purchases of parts to support team STEM competitions, incentives or stipends for teachers, and costs related to regional and national competitions.

Dean Kamen, President of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) founder, joined the announcement and stressed that success in STEM fields will be “critical to America’s economic advancement and global competitiveness.”  Innovative after-school competitions that encourage interest in STEM, like FIRST’s robotics challenge, “encourage students to pursue higher education and a career in science and technology.”  Kamen previously cited data that those who participate in FIRST competitions are more likely to attend college on a full-time basis compared to other students, nearly two times as likely to major in a science or engineering field, and are significantly more likely to achieve a post-graduate degree.

The United States Army is getting in on the act as well.  The Army recently issued a call to improve STEM education by hosting its first in a series of events at Aberdeen Proving Grounds to “channel support to advance STEM curriculum; propose STEM enrichment opportunities for teachers; and identify ways to stimulate student participation in STEM disciplines.”  Educators and industry leaders joined government officials to discuss how to improve science and mathematics teaching, especially outside the classroom.  “APG has provided a destination for the kid who aspires in STEM subjects,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lawson, executive director for high school education in Cecil County, Maryland. “We’re creating a culture with long-term goals ahead.”

Given the current budgetary climate,  evidenced by the recent flirtation with a government showdown, funding is an ever-present challenge.  The door to providing resources for STEM could remain open, however, as education largely avoided the chopping block in Congress’s 11th hour funding agreement.  Lawmakers spared Head Start and Pell grant programs from the cuts seen in many other areas, suggesting at least some agreement in an area Shaheen called “important for our students, for our economy, and for our future.”

Posted by: John Coit

Sources: Army.mil, deskeng.com, fosters.com, MSNBC, shaheen.senate.gov, thehill.com,

Photo Credit: NYC FIRST ROBOTICS COMPETITION 2011 – Jacob Javits Convention Center, Manhattan NYC – 03/12/11 courtesty of flickr user asterix611

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