The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation has announced its cohort for STEM 2035, a $5.5 million initiative through which grant funding and technical assistance will be provided to existing afterschool and summer science, technology, engineering and math programs.
The YMCA of Greater Rochester was among the 17 recipients, who each will receive up to $250,000 over a three-year span. Community Connections of NY, a nonprofit management services organization, will oversee the STEM 2035 program.
Following a funding announcement earlier this year, the Wilson Foundation received more than 100 applications from across Western New York and Southeast Michigan, the organization’s two regions of focus.
“During the next 16-plus years of our foundation’s spend down, we are looking to these organizations to not only equip young leaders for the STEM industry today, but to create pathways that will allow for success beyond our exit,” said Wilson Foundation vice president of programs Amber Slichta. “There are obvious gaps that prevent underrepresented groups from pursuing STEM in their education, careers and training. Through this initiative we hope to fill these gaps and better prepare the next generation’s workforce.”
Grantees were selected based on a variety of factors, including their focus on middle and high school girls and underrepresented groups in the STEM field, and innovative approaches to program expansion or new programming.
The Wilson Foundation is funding the creation of “STEMestry Labs” throughout the YMCA of Greater Rochester’s urban operations, YMCA officials said. The labs will be the home to the Y’s out-of-school-time STEM program, which will provide early engagement with STEM concepts and activities, with an emphasis on reaching diverse populations and girls.
The YMCA will recruit participants through the City of Rochester, including the many schools in which the Y provides before and after school programming.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation to bring STEM programming to diverse populations in the City of Rochester,” YMCA President and CEO George Romell said. “Combining the foundation’s incredible generosity together with our deep commitment to Rochester and years of expertise in STEM programming, we are confident we will have considerable impact on young people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to specialized programming like this.”
YMCA staff members will be part of a regional cohort focused on developing high quality programming, and will meet several times throughout the grant period. YMCA officials said they expect to serve some 400 students by year three of the grant period in what is planned to be a collaborative experience between students and staff. In addition to learning STEM concepts in a fun and engaging atmosphere, the Y plans to have regular field trips throughout the area so students can see STEM careers in action.
“The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation’s investment in the region is making a real difference, and we are grateful for the Foundation’s belief in the power of the YMCA and our ability to reach vast cross-sections of our community with unique and needed programming and services,” Romell said.
The PEAR Institute at Harvard, a subject matter expert in afterschool STEM programs, will provide technical assistance, program assessments and support for grantees in the STEM 2035 cohort.
Equal Measure will serve as the cohort evaluator and provide insights into how the peer learning community contributes to quality improvement, knowledge exchange and better outcomes for youth.
“Young people have a bright future in science, technology, engineering and math fields, but we have to rigorously support them to engage, gain knowledge and develop skills,” said PEAR Institute founder and director Gil Noam. “Too many students lose interest right at the time when they should get excited and committed. The afterschool field has shown great potential to contribute to STEM learning in creative and hands-on ways.
“The Ralph Wilson Foundation’s STEM 2035 initiative is highly significant in providing very sizable grants, know-how and evidence and a cohort approach to training,” Noam added.
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