Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance receives grant for extracurricular STEM learning

The Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) has been awarded a five-year $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to increase access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities for rural youth during their out-of-school time.

STEM education is often seen as confined to schools, yet over 80 percent of students’ waking hours are spent outside school. Research has shown that youth engagement in extracurricular activities relates to better performance in STEM and more positive attitudes toward it. In addition, involvement in science outside of school is proven to be a key predictor of science literacy in adults.

This new project creates and studies an innovative, regional model of “STEM Guides”—people whose job it is to identify existing STEM resources and to connect youth with them in creative ways. In Maine, STEM resources are available in the form of unique institutions, including nationally-recognized labs, Acadia National Park, botanical gardens and planetariums. These institutions, along with robotics clubs, environmental camps, engineering fairs, makers’ spaces, citizen science projects, 4-H activities and more, provide ongoing venues for learning STEM.

The goal of this MMSA project is to ensure that 10- to 18-year-old youth and their families know about Maine’s STEM resources and take full advantage of them. The project will vastly increase the frequency and depth of out-of-school STEM experiences for 3,000 youth and will create a national model for STEM capacity-building in rural areas.

Pilot work on this project has already begun through MMSA’s Reach Center, which has been funded by an anonymous donor. The Center is currently developing STEM hubs in the Dexter/Dover area and on the Blue Hill peninsula. The new project will add three more regions over the coming years. To support these efforts, a searchable database of STEM resources within these communities and across the state is being developed and will continue to grow throughout the project.

Because little is known about how rural youth learn about STEM in their free time, the new project includes a research component, in partnership with Education Development Center. The project will follow youth over time to determine what is needed to spark and sustain their long-term interest in STEM topics as they explore a diverse range of local and online resources.

“This project will contribute to Maine’s increasing commitment to expanding the opportunities for our youth,” said Jerry Pieh, chair of the Maine Governor’s STEM Council and chair of the Board of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics. “Improving STEM education is key to the state’s long-term educational and economic goals.”

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