STEM Hubs are regionally-focused, multi-sector partnerships that unite schools, universities, non-profits, businesses, civic leaders and other members of communities in so-called local STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning ecosystems. STEM Hubs as organized local learning ecosystems have their origin in recent research on effective STEM programming which strongly recommends integrated approaches to teaching and learning that include not only all students, but also all assets for learning, and that build on the simple truth that learning does not only occur within classrooms. The purpose of creating these organized local STEM learning ecosystems called STEM Hubs, therefore, is to drive STEM innovation and evidence-based practices in teaching and learning at the systems level. Designing and curating connected learning across time and space by making use of local STEM assets, involvement of all community partners in a local learning ecosystem, a focus on quality of life and economic opportunity and the development of social (science) capital are underlying mechanisms that allow STEM Hubs to create short- and long-term impacts. STEM Hubs are implementing strategies that include (amongst others) educator professional development on best practices in STEM instruction; in- and out-of-school, hands-on STEM learning experiences for students; and connections to fast-growing STEM employment opportunities in Oregon. But most importantly, STEM Hubs are creating connections between programs, thereby ensuring that they develop their full effectiveness. The state of Oregon is supporting STEM Hubs by funding a backbone infrastructure as an essential component of a collective impact organization.
The main research goal for this study is to describe how investment into the Hubs has influenced local STEM communities; that is, how STEM Hubs have begun to create opportunities for partnerships, collaboration, connected programming, improved program development or delivery, or improved communication within and outside the STEM teaching and learning community. This study also has a goal to build capacity to improve STEM Hub effectiveness by supporting Hubs in data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement. The proposed study will build on the STEM Hub evaluation conducted in 2017 which revealed important insights into the degree to which the then 11 funded STEM Hubs were creating purposeful communities towards addressing locally recognized systemic challenges in STEM/CTE education. Based on previous and new findings, the proposed study will provide recommendations for improvements and future investments, as well as provide important insights into how the collective impact communities are developing. Ultimately, the study is aiming at establishing whether and to what degree STEM Hubs are helping to improve opportunities for effective teaching and learning for all Oregon children. Results from the study will also provide evidence of impact that may entice further community support, an essential aspect of sustaining and growing STEM Hubs in the future.