Activity is busting out all over at South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science (SCCMS). From the upcoming STEM Education Month to the iMAGINE STEAM community festivals and S 2 TEM Centers SC professional development, myriad events and projects are being sponsored by the coalition to make sure educators and students across the state are busy exploring, discovering and learning. Keeping all these plates spinning is the coalition’s executive director, Tom Peters, who gave us the scoop on what’s happening at the SCCMS, based at Clemson University Research Park in Anderson, South Carolina:
Q: Tell us about South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics and Science – when and why did it come about, and what is its mission?
DuPont, Michelin North America and Progress Energy (now Duke Energy) – had been working together to impact K-8 science education across the state with the assistance of the South Carolina Department of Education as part of the National Science Resources Center’s (now the Smithsonian Science Education Center) Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) initiative.
These forward-thinking companies recognized the need for a consistent and apolitical voice for quality STEM education across our state, and thus, South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science was launched. Our tag line, “Achievement By Design,” says a lot about our intentions.
Readers will note that our name does not include engineering, technology, the arts or other STEM, STEAM, STREAM disciplines. SCCMS precedes the “all things STEM” era and pays homage to our long association with the National Science Foundation’s Statewide Systemic Initiative in Mathematics and Science (1993-2003). We have not seen fit to change our name. What we do to change the STEM ecosystem matters more.
Q: How have industries, including BMW, DuPont, Michelin and Duke Energy, helped to get your organization started and keep your efforts going?
A: There is no question that SCCMS would not have launched without these partners. They provided energy, credibility, cash and intellectual capital in our startup years. Three of the four still do today. While we lost DuPont to plant closures and mergers, we have gained partners too numerous to mention, and not just in the business/industry sector.
We partner with: city governments to create STEM festivals; a heating, ventilation and air conditioning company on goal-setting strategies; the state’s Department of Commerce in creating a workforce dictionary; and so on. To be seen as the state’s “go to” organization in STEM education without the status of affiliation with a government agency keeps our efforts going toward interesting and impactful work.
Q: SCCMS has won two STEMx Challenge Grants, and both have helped fund meetings about the future of STEM in your state. Can you share the takeaways from those sessions, including the Grand Challenges, Systems Map and ideas on rural STEM education, and how they have guided your work going forward?
A: I believe we’ve been successful in earning STEMx Challenge grants because we have a storyline that is guiding our work around Grand Challenges in SC STEM Education. The Grand Challenges idea is not new, nor is it confined to education. It was, however, put into play in a very intriguing way by our friends, and now partners, at 100Kin10. The idea of identifying a few keystone challenges upon which to focus effort seemed a whole lot more actionable than a traditional strategic plan that might entail hundreds of things to do.
In our first effort, we brought the 100Kin10 challenge maps to a key group of thought and action leaders. As we had hoped, a few interrelated themes emerged, all centered around the value and perception of STEM teaching. Identifying these challenges and seeing them reinforced by participants in our recent Rural STEM convening have served to guide our resource utilization decisions toward these kinds of actions. You’ll see this focus on increasing the value and perception of STEM teaching in our lineup of STEM Education Month activities.
Q: South Carolina’s STEM Education Month is indeed coming up (March 14-April 11). Share a bit about all the events planned, including the STEM Educator of the Year award and STEM Education Day at the Capitol (March 26). What is the aim of these events?
A: I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to state Rep. Sylleste Davis. STEM Education Day, which has now evolved to STEM Education Month, is her brainchild. The aim of the Month, Day and STEM Educator of the Year is simply to draw attention to success. As a state, South Carolina often gets a bad rap for its education system. Yet, our STEM ecosystem is filled with stories of impactful and honorable teachers, engaged students and amazing programs. These stories deserve attention from our legislators, our partners, and the community at large. Y’all come and see for yourselves on March 26.
Q: Give us some details about other events your organization sponsors, including the iMAGINE STEAM Festivals. How do these events further your mission?
A: Early on, our focus was almost exclusively teachers and schools. By happenstance, we stumbled into a community’s call for something that would engage parents, guardians and kids in early STEM career exploration in a fun environment. That something evolved into one, then two, and now three community STEAM festivals. These are street fairs in every sense of the word. They are engaging and entertaining while informing community members of STEM learning and career opportunities that are literally in their own backyards. And, the food is good, too!
What is best, I think, in terms of our mission is that the festivals connect kids directly with STEM professionals.
Q: Tell us about your programs inside South Carolina’s schools and for educators’ professional development. For the latter, is this where the S 2 TEM Centers SC come in?
A: S 2 TEM Centers SC is the continuation of the statewide professional development network formed by the aforementioned National Science Foundation’s Statewide Systemic Initiative. As an initiative of SCCMS, the S 2 TEM Centers SC team offers teachers and schools direct, face-to-face connection with expert STEM education specialists located within their region. Having this strong ground game means we know our schools firsthand. We know school leaders, communities and other factors that impact STEM education. This allows us to deliver professional development that is tailored to the needs of each client-teacher, school or district.
Our team has a vast array of expertise and experience. We’ve delivered professional learning experiences to educators in everything from computational thinking to classroom management for inquiry.
Q: What is the mission of the Upstate STEM Collaborative? What tasks does it tackle, and what programs does it offer?
A: The Upstate STEM Collaborative came into being as a result of broad community interest in supporting STEM engagement opportunities that positively impact the culture and future economic success in and around Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville is home to many STEM-based employers including AFL, Bosch, Fluor, GE, JTEKT, Lockheed Martin and ScanSource. Together with schools, city government and community groups, the collaborative brings about the iMAGINE Upstate STEAM Festival, promotes STEM volunteerism, educates audiences including guidance counselors about topics relevant to STEM workforce development, and connects people with programs through asset mapping.
Q: Are you still involved as a principal investigator (PI) on research to enhance student learning in middle school math and science? Can you give us details about the research and what you have discovered? How has this research enhanced the work of the SCCMS?
A: In my role as executive director, I have had the opportunity to be involved as PI or Co-PI on numerous grants. We have done quite a lot of research in middle grades, thanks in large part to our friends at Boeing SC.
We have studied the integration of disciplinary literacy strategies and computational thinking strategies into middle grades math and science classrooms. With the support of instructional coaching, the success rate for implementation among willing teachers is high.
Q: What are your primary sources of funding to offer all of these events, programs and services?
A: Our core funding is allocated by the South Carolina General Assembly. This makes up a bit less than two-thirds of our operating budget, and it is critical to our ability to leverage additional funds from business/industry, foundations and others. Thanks to the support of the General Assembly, we are able to offer many services to teachers and schools at no cost, or at a cost well below market price. Our community outreach activities, such as iMAGINE, depend on sponsorships, and we are blessed with many amazing sponsors.
We have also been successful in pursuing and partnering in grants. And, of course, we appreciate the in-kind support provided by host organizations including Clemson University, Lander University, Berkeley County School District and Spartanburg School District 7.
Q: What are the future initiatives still on the drawing board – or on your wish list – for the SCCMS?
A: We thrive on making wishes come true. Right now we are combining two wish list items by developing a STEM teacher retention strategy that engages entire communities and applying that strategy in a largely rural school district.
Naturally, we’ll wish bigger and seek to scale up this work in other rural settings across our state.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the work done at the SCCMS?
A: I was looking over some data recently for an upcoming presentation. The data are numbers such as the 38,000 people who attended our community events in 2018-19. And, the 1,670 educators who participated in professional learning experiences during that same fiscal year. And, the nearly 200 people who served the coalition in advisory-action roles. And, the 26.5 FTEs that make up the SCCMS team.
It is easy to report numbers. It is less easy to properly express gratitude to all who put heart, soul and mind into bringing STEM learning to life for kids and communities. For those who give of themselves so that others can pursue their STEM dreams in South Carolina or anywhere, I am thankful.