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Chicago Southland STEM Network: New name, renewed purpose

A diverse group of regional STEM stakeholders, including educators, businesspeople, parents, and nonprofit professionals, met for breakfast at Homewood Science Center September 17 for the fall 2019 convening of the Chicago Southland STEM Network, demonstrating renewed commitment to cross-sector cooperation in improving STEM education and workforce development initiatives in the South Suburbs.

It was an inspirational morning powered by coffee from Redbird Café and the shared enthusiasm of network members. People at the meeting had the opportunity to make LEGO ducks in under a minute, solve a paper-and-scissors geometry challenge that wasn’t as easy as it looked, win a fast-paced math game and 12-week curriculum based on NBA and WNBA player stats, and learn from and network with area leaders in STEM.

“A great way to find ideas”

Emily DePalma, Northwestern University, told attendees about the statewide STEM Summit the university’s Office of Community Education Partnerships is organizing for November 14 with partners that include Homewood Science Center, Project Exploration, Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative, EvanSTEM, Motorola Solutions Foundation, and the Illinois Science & Technology Institute. Prairie State College is hosting the STEM Summit, Illinois’ only free education conference that brings together K-12 educators, industry leaders, and academia for a day of innovation and collaboration in STEM education. The Chicago Southland STEM Network is proud to be bringing the STEM Summit to the South Suburbs for the first time in the event's 10-year history.

Latisha Battie, Ed.S., director of youth education services for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, gave a lively talk on infusing STEM into out-of-school-time programs and building STEM partnerships. Homewood Science Center and Mi-Jack Products Inc. presented a case study on how industry and education are working together to increase the impact and extend the reach of Homewood Science Center’s field trip program.

And representatives from Boy Scouts of America, LEGO Education, Serena Hills Elementary School, and SGA Youth & Family Services gave energetic Ignite talks, each describing their STEM initiatives in 10 slides that were set to advance automatically after less than a minute per slide.

Attendees rated the event highly for connecting them to each other and outside resources. “I love meeting other professionals in the area. The hands-on activities are great [and] I always learn something new,” wrote one person who attended. “It’s a great way to find ideas and develop relationships,” wrote another.

High profile

At the September meeting, the Chicago Southland STEM Network (formerly known as the South Suburban STEAM Network) debuted a new name better suited to the group’s rising profile. “Including ‘Chicago’ in our name helps people outside our region place us,” said Edie Dobrez, Homewood Science Center executive director. “And while we remain committed to art and design—the A in ‘STEAM’—as important to science education, we acknowledge ‘STEM’ is the term more recognized worldwide.”

Network members regularly present at national conferences. Dobrez and Holly Kelsven, Homewood Science Center program manager, will be leading a conference session with partners from Colorado and New Jersey on “Leveraging Your Community Assets to Develop the Next Generation of Innovators” at the international STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice convening in Cleveland this October.

For more information on the Chicago Southland STEM Network, including a directory of STEM learning initiatives in the Chicago Southland region, click here.

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