OSTI-CON update

Last week was nonstop action. After the Second Summer Grantee Meet-up, the Summer STEM Funders Collaborative informationals and a Out-of-School Time (OST) System Building meeting we still had a conference to attend. Last Friday we went to Fort Worth for OSTI-CON a two-day conference focusing on afterschool and summer programming for kids. There were over 500 program managers, instructors, executive directors, grant writers, and OST enthusiasts in attendance.

We presented a panel on one of our current initiatives: the Summer STEM Funders Collaborative. OSTI-CON was a great venue to tell our journey thus far in convening corporate funders and private foundations. Not only could we inform OST experts around the state of Texas of what we are doing, but we could also hear if others have worked on similar initiatives and what their own experiences and attitudes were toward a funding collaborative. We ended up having a lively discussion and a lot of positive feedback at our panel. It was a great experience attending OSTI-CON for the first time.

I’ll leave you with one more fun fact about our trip to the conference: the cute snacks! Of course at a conference centering around OST you have to have carrot sticks, Twinkies, peanut butter banana sandwiches, and Ding Dongs for snack time. Since we’re adults though we also had coffee.

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Gaining Momentum in the Summer STEM Funders Collaborative Initiative

As you may know we have been working to gain momentum for a Summer STEM Funders Collaborative in Central Texas. In the past two weeks we held two informational meetings for funders to attend. The purpose of the meetings was to gather funders in person to discuss the goals and logistics of the collaborative. We also wanted to know what goals funders had for their own organizations through the collaborative, what questions they had, and what steps need to be taken next. A graphic of potential funders in this collaborative is below. It’s exciting to see so much interest in building a centralized and collaborative strategy for funding high quality OST STEM programs in Central Texas.



Overall, the feedback from the informationals was positive and everyone wants to stay in the loop as the planning moves forward. Several action items came out of the meetings.

1) What are the common indicators/standards of a high quality STEM program that could potentially receive funding?

2) Is it possible to develop a common online application for all programs to apply to and for all funders to utlize?

3) There should be a clearly defined role for private and corporate philanthropy as the collaborative moves forward. How do we define that role? What are the possible roles for private philanthropy to fill?

4) How can funding be pooled for the collaborative? Will there be one foundation or company to hold all funds in one account or will funders informally pledge a certain amount of money for grantmaking by the collaborative?

5) What is the timeline for the launch of the pilot and future years? Do we follow a fiscal year or calendar year? When will the Summer RFP be released? When will funders start to make decisions? When will programs receive a grant?

We still have a lot to do to make the Summer STEM Funders Collaborative a reality, but these are our next steps to get the 2015 cycle up and running. Let us know if you have any ideas or feedback as we move through this process. We would love to know what others think as they read our progress on this blog.

The Second Summer Grantee Meet-up

Last week the foundation hosted the second Summer Grantee Meet-up. Representatives from UTeach Outreach, Welcome Table, Akins High School STEMbridge, Phoenix Arising Aviation, Boys and Girls Club of Highland Lakes, Ann Richards School, and Girl Scouts of Central Texas were in attendance. It was a great chance for the grantees to meet and learn more about each other’s programs.

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The format of the meeting was relatively simple with each representative introducing themselves and giving a five minute summary of their role in their organization and what types of programs they offer. There was discussion about success they have had during the summer and some challenges they’ve experienced and learned from. Some successes include the completion of new curriculum and surpassing the student attendance goals. Some organizations were either adding new activities to their existing summer programs or were completely new summer programs. Each of these new programs was tested this summer and overall students enjoyed themselves.

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One major challenge is transportation to and from summer programs. The program site may not be close to a bus route or located too far from the students’ homes. Parents may not be able to take off work to drop their child off and pick them up. We will be outlining this challenge in more detail in our 2014 Summer Learning Report along with recommendations for next summer.

Two action items came out of the meet-up.

1)      The third and final summer meet-up will be held in September. Planning for summer programs begins in September. With the third meet-up taking place in September grantees will be better able to share ideas and ask each other questions on registration, logistics, and curriculum. The original date of the third meet-up was in August, but many organizations are either holding summer programs or preparing for the beginning of the school year during that time.

2)      Grantees identified potential ways to collaborate with each other on recruitment, programming, and logistics. Participants in the meeting expressed a willingness and excitement to talk further with each other outside of the meeting and leverage each other’s expertise in many different STEM topics.

Examining the Impact of Afterschool STEM Programs

“Examining the Impact of Afterschool STEM Programs” is a unique and well-researched report that examines the state of the STEM out-of-school time (OST) programming across the nation.  The report, published by the Afterschool Alliance and PEAR Institute, and commissioned by the NOYCE Foundation, highlights strong programs that engage and challenge students in many different STEM topics.  Two programs from Austin, Tech Reach at the Thinkery and Girlstart,  were highlighted in the report as strong STEM programs with positive outcomes for students.

Afterschool Alliance logo                 pear       noyce fdn logo

Some important findings include:

  • A greater number of students in high-quality programs showed greater interest in science and other STEM topics in comparison to programs of low or medium quality.
  • A high quality program cultivates and grows STEM skills and proficiencies.
  • Students are engaged and excited about the activities; 86 percent of participants in the Girlstart afterschool program reported an interest in STEM and 84 percent said they would pursue STEM topics further in middle or high school courses.

The most startling finding in the report is that mediocre and poor informal STEM programs do more harm than not having an informal STEM program at all.  Students who have a negative (or boring) experience in an OST STEM program of marginal quality are far less likely to try STEM subjects or activities again in or out of school.

All of the STEM programs featured in the report are able to recruit and retain students in STEM activities from diverse populations (ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic level, etc.).  Many of the students in the programs are eligible for free and reduced lunch.  There are also a substantial number of minorities represented in the programs.


Students are learning real skills and they are able to contribute productively to STEM processes.  In the program 4-H Tech Wizards that is offered throughout the United States participants are mentored for three years by engineering professionals.  They learn practical skills by visiting the mentor’s place of work and doing projects with them off-site.  Ninety-five percent of participants demonstrate mastery of website development, LEGO robotics programming, and GIS and GPS technologies.STEM

Overall it is important to build system infrastructure to support STEM programs.  There are substantial advantages to building an ecosystem for programs to communicate, collaborate, and find funding more easily.  These programs impact academic performance.  It is important to grow the potential of other STEM programs and increase the number of students in OST STEM activities.  Cohorts of better performing students lead to better performing schools which lead to healthy and productive adults and possibly more people interested and employed in STEM disciplines.

The full report can be found here.

Who else can collaborate in the Summer STEM Ecosystem?

If you’ve been reading this blog then you are well aware that we trying to build a Summer STEM Funders’ Collaborative in Central Texas.  This collaborative would fund best-in-class informal STEM learning programs. It would be a big step towards building a Summer STEM programs “ecosystem” in the Austin area and broadening the access of high-quality programs to many more students.  A funders’ collaborative is not the only way that people and programs can come together to increase STEM program quality.

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Non-Profit Program Providers

Many non-profit providers are already collaborating and these partnerships are increasingly valuable.  For example, Boys and Girls Club of Highland Lakes and Freedom Flyers work together to provide out-of-school time programming in aviation to students in Marble Falls and Burnet.  Together they are able to easily recruit students from an established community provider, the Boys and Girls Club, and teach them about all things airplane-related.

Non-profit program providers can work together to share space and instructors.  STAARburst, a camp hosted by Austin ISD, hires other providers such as Phoenix Arising Aviation, Austin Film Society, and 4-H Club to come in the afternoon and teach students.  These providers are specialists on different topics than the STAARburst instructors’ areas of expertise.  Therefore students experience many different topics related to STEM and can learn about many disciplines.

UTeach Outreach, part of the University of Texas at Austin, trains teachers in the UTeach curriculum.  Instructors from all types of camps can use the curriculum and implement in their own programs.

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Providers and Community Members.

Some camps, such as Round Rock ISD Summer KICKS, invite members from the community such as engineers, doctors, nurses, software developers, and park rangers to come discuss their experiences and careers with students.  Students have the opportunity to be up close and personal with industry professionals.  They can ask questions about what it’s really like to work in different STEM fields.  Often these relationships can lead to internships for students.


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Summer STEM Site Visits: The Saga Continues

It’s July now, and we are halfway through the summer site visits.  I have now visited eight out of the sixteen Summer STEM programs funded by the foundation this year.  I have also been able to visit six of the programs twice already.  That adds up to fifteen site visits spanning from San Marcos to Buda to Austin to Round Rock and out to Marble Falls.  It’s been a nice tour of what Central Texas non-profits offer for students interested in STEM topics.  Since the first site visit update we visited UTeach Outreach, Round Rock ISD Summer KICKS, Austin ISD Camp STAARburst, and Boys and Girls Club of Highland Lakes Freedom Flyers program.

The kids were having a blast at each program.  I observed a class of ten students having a heated debate on whether zero was an odd number, an even number, or neither.  The debate included mathematical proofs, five minute speeches, and rebuttals that went on for over twenty minutes.  The only reason they stopped was because the teacher told them they were moving on and would have to revisit their discussion after the next activity:  a math game.

photo (5)  Students in another camp planned, built, and tweaked machines out of recycled materials they found around the school.  After noticing how much trash was around the school, the students took a walk to collect the trash.  They told the teacher that it seemed outrageous to just throw it all away–there must be another use for it.  Thus the recycle project was born.  In a completely student-led project, the class used the engineering design process to come up with other ways to use the materials. Some built a ticket-taker, some built a car, and others built recycling bins.

photo (3)    photo (4)In another camp students were challenged to build a carnival game game out of tape, cardboard, cups, string, wood, and marbles.  It was amazing to see all the different ideas that students came up with.  The games varied from self-propelling cars, basketball, and a windmill game, to a zipline, a domino effect course, and a mini-version of golf.

The wide variety of ways students could engage with STEM was amazing.  There’s so much more I could talk about.  Students designed, tested, and built their own bridges, designed their own video games, programmed robots, played a statistics game, learned about negative numbers, and crash-tested miniature car models they built and designed.

The next time I post about our summer site visits, we will be at the end of the site visit saga. Stay tuned for another July post reporting on the summary of all 32 site visits.

Out of School Time Leadership Summit Series Launched

More than 70 leaders from Austin area nonprofit organizations, school districts, and philanthropic foundations convened on Wednesday, June 25, to discuss a coordinated approach to out-of-school time (OST) programming.  Austin City Council member and candidate Kathie Tovo provided introductory remarks on the importance of coordinated OST programming for Austin.

Based on local research and experience, along with data from reports published by the Wallace Foundation, the presentation included descriptions of the components for an effective OST system.  Further, Lydia Domaruk, County Extension Agent with the  4-H  CAPITAL Project and one of the volunteer leaders of the work, presented comparative lists of which pieces are already in place in the Austin area and which pieces are not.  Her full presentation is here.

Components of an effectively coordinated approach to OST include:

  • Committed Leadership
  • Multi-year Planning
  • Reliable Information (Data)
  • An Intermediary Organization
  • Program Quality
  • Expanding Participation

The Leadership Summit Series includes two more planning meetings, scheduled for November 5, 2014, from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., and February 4, 2015, from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., with a targeted date of April 2015 to present to the Travis County/City of Austin/Austin Independent School District Joint Subcommittee.

The volunteer team working on Central Texas OST system building includes Sabine Foster of Ready by 21, Shirlene Justice, Domaruk, Desiree Morales of AISD 21st Century Community Learning Centers, along with other providers, funders, and community stakeholders.



The First Week of Summer Grantee Site Visits

The past ten days at the foundation have been full of site visits. We visited Mathworks in San Marcos, Girlstart in Buda, the Ann Richards School in Austin, Akins High School in Austin, and the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team STEM and Robotics Academy. Here’s a little summary of the fun we had.

Each program was unique in it’s offering of STEM topics and in the age of students. There were first and second graders learning how to add and subtract negative numbers. Students in another classroom were thinking of different ways to calculate the area of a composite shape. Another teacher had students completing a Ken-Ken, a more complex version of a Sudoku.

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There was another camp of girls building and sewing LED rings to wear around their fingers. The LED light rings even changed colors. The girls got so excited about their rings that a group of girls ran to the nearest dark room to light it up with all their rings

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We had the opportunity to watch girls build towers out of recycled paper that were over six feet tall. The teachers gave out awards to the team for Tallest Tower, Prettiest Tower, and Most Courageous Tower. One team of girls built a tower well over six feet tall. Another team was aiming for the Prettiest Tower Award and made a tower that was actually a girl looking through a telescope.

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Robotics was another type of STEM subject that was offered at one of the camps. Fourth and fifth graders were programming robots to turn, reverse, and drive forward. As one of the final assignments of the morning, students were tasked with the Recycling Challenge. Students needed to program their robot to push a can across a table and drop it in a recycling bin without the robot also falling into the recycling bin. Each camp was full of students getting excited about engineering, math, and science in really fun ways.

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Anytime the opportunity arises to get in the field and see what the STEM camps are really like and how much the students love it makes for an exciting day. The summer grantees kicked off the summer with a great start. We can’t wait to see more programs. We have eleven more programs to visit this summer, and then a second site visit to each of the 16 programs. It’s a busy summer, but worth it when you see how engaged the students are and how much they are learning about all things STEM-related.

What is the Texas Expanded Learning Opportunities Council?

The Texas Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Council was created by the Texas Legislature and has 13 members.  The ELO Council was created “to study issues related to expanded learning opportunities (such as implementing an extended school day or school year) and review structured programs outside of the regular school day (such as before- and after-school programs and summer programs),” according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announcement about the ELO Council appointees.

The ELO Council “was created by Senate Bill 503, authored by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and passed during the 83rd legislative session,” as reported in the Texas Tribune.

At the first meeting of the Council on May 2, 2014, Molly Clayton, Executive Director of the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time (TXPOST) presented a snapshot of the Texas Out-of-School Time Landscape to the ELO Council.  TXPOST has posted some overview information about the ELO Council on their website here.

In her presentation, Clayton clarified the “Acronym Alphabet” with the following illustration:

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Work continues as the private philanthropy sector supports non-partisan research to inform the discussion at the policy level.  The KDK-Harman Foundation is the seed funder for the ELO Workgroup of the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium and helped fund this policy paper.

So how would this Summer STEM Funders’ Collaborative work?

If you’ve been following this blog–or if you’ve just found it and are scrolling through–you know that we are working to form a Summer STEM Funders’ Collaborative in the Austin Area.  So what do we mean by that, and how would funders engage?

In whatever way they choose!  That’s the underlying answer, because funders can do as they wish to execute their philanthropic missions.   To get to the real answer, we are hosting, along with the Austin Community Foundation, two informational meetings this summer to discuss the next steps in forming the collaborative.  How, exactly, the collaborative funding would work is central to those discussions.  In conversations to date this year, I’ve outlined a variety of options to fellow funders.  Here are some of those ideas:

Pooling funds – this method could have a group of funders committing a certain dollar amount to Summer STEM Learning, a fund would be set up to manage the funds, and the entire group or a specified proxy group would allocate the funding to organizations that apply using a common application.

Leveraging due diligence from the KDK-Harman Foundation - this method could have other funders avail themselves of the analyses performed by the KDK-Harman staff and board; our foundation focuses almost exclusively on Summer (and Out-of-School Time) STEM programs and, as such, dives deep into the programming, operations, and relationships among local Summer STEM programs. By sharing our findings, other funders can make their own informed decisions about what to fund for the summer.

Collaborative allocation – this method, similar to the Summer Youth Program Fund in Indianapolis, would have a common application and a portal where all participating funders could upload the applications they receive; funders would meet two or three times a year to plan, then review a dashboard of the applications received (in order to identify gaps and overlaps) and allocate funding to avoid gaps and overlaps.  Importantly, this method would include a common set of indicators for what we, as funders, mean by “high-quality Summer/OST STEM programs.”

And, of course, there is the alternative that funders could just watch what the KDK-Harman Foundation and other area STEM funders are investing in and base their decisions and research on the body of knowledge shared on this blog and other websites.

In any event, the case for collaboratively funding high-quality Summer STEM programs in Central Texas is strong and we are eager to work with our fellow funders to find a way to engage as many of them as possible in this exciting endeavor.