Successful STEM Programs!

A STEM program at the Spokane (Wash.) Public Library.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is a critical engine for innovation and growth. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the STEM workforce accounts for more than 50 percent of the United States’ sustained economic growth. In the next six years, there will be a predicted 2.4 million job openings in STEM fields, and STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts (see the 2011 STEM study by Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Michelle Melton).

Libraries are essential to STEM education efforts because of their strong connections to families and communities. They have long supported formal education efforts by providing literacy programs and other educational opportunities, and are considering new ways to engage their patrons in STEM learning experiences. STAR_Net’s Discover Earth and Discover Tech programs provide an example of the impact that a public library can have on its community by offering exciting and engaging STEM experiences.

Discover Earth in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania STEM Girls Collaborative Project

The Discover Earth: A Century of Change exhibition features interactive, multimedia displays that allow library patrons to explore local and global earth system topics-such as weather, water cycle, and ecosystem changes.

The Pennsylvania STEM Girls Collaborative Project (PA STEM) hosted a Role Models Matter Forum at the Ephrata Public Library in conjunction with the Discover Earth exhibit. Role Models Matter, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a collaborative effort between Techbridge, the Society of Women Engineers, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and Girl Scout Councils to bring resources to role models and girl serving organizations. The goal of the project is to increase girls’ interest in STEM by creating resources to train STEM professionals to interact with girls in a meaningful way. The forum gave opportunities for attendees to learn how to increase and improve the quality of their outreach to girls in STEM.

Lisa Kovalchik, PA STEM Collaborative Lead, gave participants time to explore the Discover Earth exhibit midday. She plans to partner with area libraries in the future to provide professional development workshops for individuals and organizations serving girls in STEM.

Discover Tech in Spokane, Washington, and Glasgow, Kentucky

Discover Tech: Engineers Make a World of Difference shows how engineering provides solutions to better meet human needs and explores how engineers create new technologies to solve problems.

Spokane Public Library

At the Spokane Public Library, Sally Chilson, Youth Services Coordinator, used Discover Tech as a catalyst to focus all library programming on engineering for the duration of the exhibit. Children from nearby schools, elementary through high school, visited the library to interact with the exhibit. They partnered with a local science museum, Mobius, which offered discounted tickets to children who would visit Mobius in the morning and Discover Tech in the afternoon. Tincan, a local nonprofit offering technology training, provided eight weeks of programming at the library, as well.

In conjunction with Discover Tech, the Spokane Public Library offered a variety of engineer-focused programming, including sessions with engineers from the City of Spokane and a female student from Gonzaga University representing Engineers without Borders. Her presentation focused on sparking interest in STEM education among the elementary and middle school girls in attendance. Additionally, the library hosted a well-attended biomedical engineering program with professionals from the field. These sessions were received with enthusiasm by the community and helped promote the library as a center for STEM education.

Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library

Like the Spokane Public Library, the Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library in Glasgow, Kentucky, formed successful local partnerships through the Discover Tech exhibit. Librarian Martha Nell Thomas coordinated exciting programming that incorporated the history of the town, presentations from local engineers from the water and electric utilities, and workshops hosted by university students. Local schools took field trips to the exhibit, and children of all ages enjoyed independently going through the exhibit—many becoming so engaged that they went through multiple times.

The Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library was especially successful in partnering with the local university to create science and engineering programming. Western Kentucky University (WKU) hosted a series of SKyTeach (WKU’s innovative math and science teacher education program) workshops, getting young people excited about math and science. Additionally, the Center for Gifted Studies at WKU provided special programming that allowed children to create working hand pollinators and wind turbines. Students were thrilled to participate in the hands-on activities, and it provided an opportunity for WKU to recruit potential students.

Resources for Librarians

  • LEGO Mindstorms: LEGO Robotics kits used at the Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library and by formal and informal STEM educators.
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services: Information on STEM library partnerships and grants.
  • Grand Challenges: The “Grand Challenges” of engineering, and what is being done to solve them.
  • Engineering Games: Fun games and activities that show how engineering affects our day to day lives.
  • PBS Kids: Printable activities on Science, Engineering, the 5 senses and more!

More resources are available at the STAR_Net website. STAR_NET partners include the Space Science Institute, the American Library Association, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and the National Girls Collaborative Project.