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 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, both in and outside the classroom. To do this, 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 was 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 had a goal to build capacity to improve STEM Hub effectiveness by supporting Hubs in data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement. The study built 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.
Data indicated that investments into backbone structures and programming by the state have been instrumental in creating local STEM Hubs as communities of practice focused on providing rich STEM learning opportunities for all. Across STEM Hubs, partners and backbone staff are reporting positive change as a direct result of Hub activity. In addition, Hubs are developing a collective identity with increased connection, communication and collaboration among Hubs since 2017.