According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, our nation’s employers will have a difficult time finding qualified professionals to fill the over nine million new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs that will emerge over the next twenty years.[i] Like other employers, our own businesses in the Chicago and Greater Oak Brook, Illinois area will experience more intense competition for STEM talent over this period.
Continued poor STEM academic performance among large numbers of DuPage County middle and high school students will contribute to this future STEM workforce shortage. Currently more than 7,500 low-income middle school students and 12,500 low-income high school students attend forty DuPage County schools where at least 30% of students, overall, score poorly on standardized math and science tests. In many of these schools, 60 to 70% fail.[ii] Most of these students, including 3,500 African American, Latino and Hispanic students, could perform well in these courses, go on to college, then succeed in careers, but many will not.[iii] In addition, many middle and high school girls who attend these schools, like thousands of young women students across the United States, continue to avoid taking and excelling in math and science courses, especially computer science, even though they have the ability to perform well in these courses and later in related careers.[iv]
The Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Partnership (EDP) and our DuPage County secondary and higher education partners have developed a unique program to help middle and high school students succeed in STEM coursework and prepare for future STEM careers. This program focuses on working closely with the thousands of students in nearby communities who are capable of high achievement in STEM academics and careers, but are at risk of failing due to socioeconomic challenges that put them at a disadvantage. Exposing these students now to STEM education and career experiences can help them achieve future college and career success and help our employers meet critical future workforce needs.
STEM Bridge Partnership
The STEM Bridge Partnership is a youth-led project that focuses on STEM learning and college and career-readiness for at-risk middle and high school students. These students include low-income, African American, Hispanic and Latino, and young women students. The project is distinct in that it links the developing leadership ability, knowledge, and experiences of middle and high school students with that of students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate STEM projects and young professionals employed in STEM careers. The close age and conjoint life experiences of these groups, generally ages 12 through 32, allow middle and high school students to relate to and work and learn easily with their academic and professional “near peers.” We believe this near peer mentoring approach will encourage students’ future participation and success in STEM academics and STEM careers.
The project also recognizes that middle and high school students are capable of leading, serving, and contributing to their schools and communities now, while they learn from college students and young professionals with whom they can relate. To facilitate early community leadership experiences, these students will also have a unique opportunity to guide a student-led STEM Bridge Partnership Leadership Council that is accountable for the project’s success and for representing the needs of at-risk students participating in the project. They will also help plan and lead a STEM Bridge Partnership College and Career Readiness Conference.
These students will additionally have the opportunity to serve as liaisons with school, government and business leaders to learn how these systems operate and how they might be improved. These liaison experiences will help inspire students to begin working now on ways to make their communities better. Students will also benefit from the rewarding academic and professional relationships they will develop with school leaders and higher education and business partners. Many of these relationships may continue into their professional careers.
Experiential Learning Activities
STEM Bridge Partnership Bridge Teams. The project will begin with the creation of five Bridge teams, each composed of the following individuals:
DuPage County middle and high school principals and STEM teachers from schools with the highest numbers of at-risk students serve on the project’s steering committee with business and higher education partners. These middle and high school leaders will help identify middle and high school participants for the Near Peer Teams. Our higher education partners will identify undergraduate and graduate student mentors. Members of the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Partnership’s Young Business Leaders will serve as young professional mentors for the Bridge Teams and work with middle and high school principals and STEM teachers to develop Bridge Team work projects. The Bridge teams will work at local corporations and learn how to lead and manage complex and interesting STEM-related work projects to develop early skills in research, innovative thinking, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Each Bridge Team member will be involved in every aspect of the project process, applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts to their onsite learning experiences.
STEM Bridge Partnership Interactive Website. At project completion, middle and high school Bridge Team members will create videos describing their experience. The videos will be posted on a STEM Bridge Partnership interactive website for other students (and their parents) to view. This website will also provide online interactive links to the project’s undergraduate, graduate and young professional STEM mentors who will offer individualized college and career guidance.
STEM Bridge Partnership Leadership Council. Especially important, the project will include the appointment of a 20-member youth-led STEM Bridge Partnership Leadership Council. In addition to guiding and evaluating the project’s progress, council members will also be advocates for at-risk students in the project. The following individuals will serve on the council:
STEM Bridge Partnership College and Career Readiness Conference. Each year, the project will present a student-led conference to advance student STEM education and careers.
Critical Connections Between Parents, Higher Education, and Business Partners
The parents of participating middle and high school students will be informed and involved in all activities through:
In addition, our higher education partners offer many projects that could benefit at-risk students and their parents, but are currently underutilized. Information about these projects will be available for families through the interactive website and other project communications. Four colleges will work their teams to identify STEM undergraduate and graduate student mentors, providing college readiness resources for the interactive website, assisting with the planning and presentation of the conference, and assisting with the development of the project’s evaluation tools.
Our business partners will be involved with the project by:
Effective Mentor Training
The project’s 40 young professional mentors and 20 college student mentors will participate in the screening, orientation, and training recommended by the National Mentoring Partnership (NMP) to ensure that they have the backgrounds, skills, and qualities needed to mentor students.[v] The program will also incorporate the NMP’s recommended mentor recognition and retention activities to help ensure mentor satisfaction and future participation.
To measure short-term results, the 60 young academic and professional mentors, 20 middle and high school student leaders, and 200 other participating students and their parents will be asked to complete quarterly questionnaires to identify the personal, professional and other benefits they have experienced, due to their involvement in each activity, including the Bridge Teams, interactive website, Leadership Council, and conference. Mentors, students, and parents using the interactive website will also see ongoing feedback prompts as they work online. This will help ensure that we collect specific information about each project activity, with a focus on the value and usefulness of our online services, the quality of the online interactive experience, and unaddressed student or family needs.
The project’s primary long-term goal is to significantly increase the number of middle and high school students who succeed in school, especially in STEM courses, and are prepared for and succeed in STEM-related careers. We will work with our middle school, high school and higher education partners to determine and use the best methods for measuring increases in academic performance, interest in STEM courses, and student progress toward preparing and planning for STEM college coursework and careers.
This Project is Sustainable
Our local corporations provide ongoing support for this project because they believe their investment will benefit students and help attract and retain a talented workforce for our community for the future. However, initial private grant funding will be very important in supporting first-phase costs for the complete initial set up of the project, including mentor training, the Leadership Council, the development of project and marketing materials, and the development of the interactive website and related tracking and evaluation software. These costs will decrease gradually over the life of the project, with corporations covering much of the remaining in-kind support for project facilitation, materials, and conference hosting each year going forward.
About the Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Partnership
The Greater Oak Brook Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Partnership (EDP) is a 501c3 charitable organization that works closely with its very engaged and dynamic corporate community to strengthen the area’s economy and attract and retain a talented workforce. A 29-member board of directors that reflects a cross section of local companies governs the EDP and includes senior professionals from Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, such as Ace Hardware Corporation and Hub Group and mid to small-size employers representing the community’s largest and growing segments: technology, investment and banking, hospitality and retail, transportation, and commercial real estate. The EDP also serves as a coordinating group for our local employers, educators, and government stakeholders to develop and lead effective initiatives that will help prepare our local elementary, middle and high school students for the rewarding careers that will be available to them in the future. The EDP additionally guides solutions to address workforce transportation and infrastructure needs.
For more information about this project please call Tracy Mulqueen at 708-560-5271.