STEM Ecosystem Study

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Project Overview

In the education field, an ecosystem is an interconnected web of people and resources striving toward a shared goal. A large national initiative is leveraging the ecosystem approach to address the paucity of high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities, both in and out of school, for all learners “K to gray”.  In this initiative more than 25 communities are developing a local STEM ecosystem – comprised of industry, school, out-of-school, higher education and informal education partners - to devise strategies that are sensitive to local needs and leverage local assets to improve STEM education. Each local ecosystem participates in a national community of practice where partners gather twice a year to share successes and challenges, learn from one another, and receive technical assistance. The first year study of the national initiative used a qualitative approach to understand the factors stakeholders define as critical to the development of a STEM ecosystem and a national community of practice. Acknowledging the value placed on cross-sector collaboration to a STEM ecosystem, the study takes an in-depth look at the role of diverse partnerships as one factor of interest.


Key Activities

  • Nearly 100 interviews with ecosystem stakeholders and observations of authentic ecosystem activities were used to define the structure of the network of ecosystems and identify the critical factors for developing an ecosystem and a national network of ecosystems

  • Site visits to local ecosystems were used to provide exemplars of ecosystem models, strengths, and needs of ecosystems and approaches used to advance the ecosystems’ goals.

  • Analysis of foundational initiative documents was used to identify common characteristics of ecosystems such as type and number of partners and goals of the ecosystems.


  • The study can inform the development of future STEM ecosystems.

  • Findings can further demonstrate successes and challenges encountered during collective impact approaches.

Project Team

Project Lead: Femi Vance, PhD

Project Team: Katy Nilsen, PhD

Anne Keicher, MA

Dana Handy