Connecting STEM to underserved youth
On Oct. 11, a Portland-area nonprofit organization revealed its new name, website and mission: to show underserved youth the relevancy of math and science by offering work experience and activities with volunteers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries. And the nonprofit organization's programs have been gradually developing to fit its mission over the last five years.
In4All — formerly known as The Business Education Compact — offers three programs, each connected to elementary, middle and high school, that links schools with industry partners in Multnomah and Washington counties. And the Beaverton organization is looking to expand into Clackamas County.
"We can participate in re-writing the narrative of students that are historically underserved by mobilizing community — industry and education — and engaging students along the K-12 continuum to imagine and realize a future of limitless possibilities," said Elaine Charpentier Philippi, executive director at In4All. "This is critically important to our state, to our economy and to our future."
When Philippi was hired seven years ago, and began her position as executive director two years ago, she poured her heart into her job.
Her father immigrated to the United States as an adult and neither of her parents were educated past middle school. Philippi finished high school with a 1.8 GPA before going to Pacific University later in life.
"I believed students like me did not go to college and live successful lives. That mindset would become the platform I would base all decisions upon as a young adult and it was my largest barrier to living the life I was capable of," Philippi wrote in her blog on In4All's website. "My story is not an anomaly. For decades, poor students and people of color have been underperforming in our schools. They disproportionately struggle to connect what they're learning in school to life outside of it. I can personally relate to the challenges students face which have nothing to do with their intelligence, creativity or motivation to succeed."
This is what drove her passion and dedication at In4All.
About five years ago, the nonprofit started looking for ways to connect local schools and businesses. It decided to adopt the STEM Connect program for grades 4 and 5 that is designed to bring STEM learning into the classroom.
"We train our company volunteers to deliver our activities to all fourth- and fifth-grade classes at their partner school," Philippi said. "We provide the curriculum and activity kits they use to engage students, work with the teachers and volunteers to plan out the calendar for when the four visits to the classroom school will take place."
Before the STEM Connect program, Philippi said In4All didn't have a focus or a priority population. Volunteers would visit classrooms once a year and now they visit classrooms four times a year.
Since then, the nonprofit has added programs for middle schools and high schools. Feeder middle schools of elementary schools with In4All's programs are prioritized. The middle school program is more in-depth and connects math and science to places in the community, like parks, to engage students who are at risk of dropping out of school.
For example, Philippi said if a student saw bullying at the school or a place nearby, the student could observe and count the number of bullying instances and determine whether it's a perceived problem or a real problem. The student would then create a graph to look at frequency and eventually prototype a real solution based on the observed evidence.
In4All trains the industry partner volunteers, facilitates picking the project and completion of the activity and gives students feedback on their project.
In4All also provides a structure for high school work experiences, where students gain first-hand knowledge from working with busines-ses.
The organization could expand to places like West Linn and Wilsonville, but that is largely dependent on industry partners and volunteers.
"Clackamas is an area we are interested in growing partnerships with," said Philippi, adding that staff has already been talking with STEM hubs in the area to understand industries' interests.
Philippi said she sees it as a chance to build engaged citizens who will vote, be present, volunteer and can understand their sense of value and purpose.
"Science is so much bigger than an occupation," she said.