STEM Initiative Spotlight: Interview with Change the Equation

Change the Equation works at the intersection of business and education to ensure that all students are STEM literate by collaborating with schools, communities, and states to adopt and implement excellent STEM policies and programs. We talked to Christina Gordon, CTE’s Director of Communications, to find out more about the organization and its projects.

There’s a shortage of women in STEM careers; what is your organization’s unique role in addressing this issue?

Change the Equation is working with business leaders to ensure that Corporate America is not only aware of the shortage, but is taking steps to address it. We are doing this in a variety of ways. First, we are doing research into the areas where women and girls are not well represented – for instance, our recent brief Code Red addressed the shortage of women in computer science careers. By calling attention to how dire the situation is in some areas, we are able to intensify the urgency and offer recommendations on how to address the problem. Further, our STEMworks tool highlights programs that are proven to have an impact in STEM education – and it offers specific programs that are focused on girls. These programs, having already been vetted, offer our member companies and other funders the opportunity to put their resources toward effective solutions that are addressing the need.

How does CTE support its members to ensure their goals are reached?

Change the Equation provides resources to our membership that support their work. Our Design Principles and Rubric give our membership additional tools to help evaluate their philanthropic efforts and increase the return on their investment in STEM learning. Further, our Vital Signs data empower our member companies with evidence to support their advocacy efforts around issues like their need to increase the supply of highly qualified STEM employees; the need for states to stand by high standards and expectations; and the importance of giving young people better access to STEM learning opportunities. We also offer a variety of tailored learning and networking opportunities (webinars, summits, and other events) that specifically address the concerns that are top-of-mind for corporate leadership around STEM education. By serving as an advisor to our membership, we are able to help them advance their goals while ultimately serving our own mission.

What are the measurements of success in ensuring STEM learning for students?

These measures include, but go well beyond, K-12 test scores in math and science. Through our policy and advocacy work, we aim to improve young people’s performance on state, national, and international tests of math and science. We also want to ensure that more young people — particularly females and minorities — have access to challenging coursework, such as AP classes. According to current measures, females and students and color are much less likely to have access to such classes, and those who do are much more likely to say they lack the confidence to take them. In addition, we want to ensure that young people have access to out-of-school learning opportunities in STEM. Our own research shows that young people in only 19 percent of U.S. households take part in STEM afterschool opportunities. Yet another important measure that we hope to influence is the share of young people who study in STEM fields. Our research has shown that, in critical fields like engineering and computer science, women and African Americans have actually lost ground over the past decade. We need to reverse that trend.

What milestones have you already reached or are you currently moving towards?

Change the Equation member companies are bringing the effective STEM education programs in STEMworks to hundreds of thousands of young people each year.With funding provided by the members of Change the Equation, we are looking ahead to reaching more than a million students with excellent STEM education programs by the end of 2016.

How can schools, professional organizations and companies work together to empower women entering STEM?

One thing that companies, professional organizations and schools can do at the K-12 level is advocate for making all STEM courses count. For example, states that make computer science a high school graduation requirement ensure that all students, including female students, gain exposure to computing by the time they graduate. We also need to ensure that states adopt strong standards in STEM areas. Required courses will have little impact if they are not aligned with standards that clearly specify relevant and engaging content and skills students should learn.

Of course we also encourage our companies to support programs that get students, and particularly girls, hooked on STEM (and make a real impact). The programs in STEMworks aren’t just fun and enriching programs – they are moving the needle and providing a return on investment. Programs like Girlstart, Techbridge, and Design Connect Create have demonstrated how collaboration between companies, schools and communities can pave the way for more girls and women in STEM.

Is there anything additional you’d like to add?

There is a lot of public attention devoted to the importance of STEM fields and the need to get many more girls and women involved. That is very good news. With public attention, however, comes hype, which can make it difficult for companies and other STEM enthusiasts to separate the wheat from the chaff. Change the Equation is committed to sustaining public commitment to getting more girls into STEM fields while helping its companies identify the best and most promising strategies for change.

To learn more check out our full feature piece, 15 Innovative Initiatives Bringing Women Into STEM, as well as the Change the Equation website.

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