STEM AmeriCorps Program Expands Via $1.7M Best Buy Grant

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) will expand STEM AmeriCorps, an initiative designed to spur student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math education, with a $1.7 million grant from the Best Buy Foundation.

The grant from Best Buy will place 20 AmeriCorps VISTA members at Best Buy Teen Tech Centers in eight locations: Chicago, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, San Antonio, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. These AmeriCorps members will help low-income teens to participate in the FIRST robotics competition.

FIRST, through its AmeriCorps VISTA program, is one of 10 national partners supported by the Best Buy Foundation to help underserved teens build 21st century skills and bridge the Digital Divide. FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration of Science and Technology, reaches hundreds of thousands of students annually through programs including robotics competitions, LEGO League and scholarships.

The partnership was announced by President Obama during the White House Science Fair. It is part of Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign to get more girls and boys, especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups, inspired and prepared to excel in the STEM fields. As part of the fair, Obama broadcast that over $240 million in new private-sector commitments. The White House has been adept at attracting private sector funding to its domestic policy initiatives, especially when congressional appropriators have been slow to embrace them.

This includes:

  • $150 million philanthropic effort to empower a diverse cadre of promising early-career scientists to stay on track to become scientific leaders of tomorrow;
  • $90 million “Let Everyone Dream” campaign to expand STEM opportunities to under-represented youth;
  • 120 universities and colleges committing to train 20,000 engineers to tackle the “Grand Challenges” of 21st century; and
  • CEO coalition Change the Equation committing to extend effective STEM programs to an additional 1.5 million students this year.

Ready-to-Learn

The effort will also feature reprogrammed Education Dept. funding. ED launched a $25 million grant competition to support the creation of science and literacy themed media that inspires children, especially those from low-income homes, to play and explore. The department’s Ready-to-Learn Television program (CFDA Number: 84.295A) releases a new competition for five-year grants to support the development of educational television and digital media for young children and their parents.

A Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and PBS report entitled “Findings from Ready to Learn 2005-2010” found that using combinations of well-designed educational media, including television, websites, and other digital platforms, can be effective in improving classroom skills among low income children, ages 2-8.

STEM Stressed

This is the first time in Ready-to-Learn’s history that the program will include a specific emphasis on science programming. The new TV shows, interactive learning games, websites, and mobile apps produced by Ready-to-Learn grantees will engage children in the world of science, and help them learn and put into practice the skills they need for success in school. Applicants are also encouraged to develop new models of embedded assessment and learning systems that adapt as children use them. This new competition will build on Ready-to-Learn’s prior success in creating high-quality educational programming, including shows like Word World, Super Why!, and Peg + Cat. ED anticipates it will makes three awards of about $8 million each.

Deadline: May 26.

More Opportunities

The administration will host a series of roundtables in 2015. Starting at the Science Fair itself, the White House will launch a series of roundtables in 2015 that will feature diverse voices in science and technology. Building on the recent launch of “Untold Stories of Women in Science and Technology” on the White House website, the roundtables are intended both to celebrate the work of outstanding individual contributors to science and technology and raise their visibility as role models for the next generation of students.

Further, a diverse array of organizations will support innovation across the country by giving more students access to hardware tools like 3D printers, peer networks, and opportunities to showcase their work.

These include:

  • Society for the Science & the Public launches a new campaign to reach more under-served and socio-economically challenged students by providing micro-grants to key adults – teachers, counselors, and mentors – who agree to mentor a “posse” of 3-5 such students. This campaign will enable students to compete in science competitions while building their capabilities to achieve future success in academic and career pursuits in STEM.
  • Digital Harbor Foundation, with the Perpetual Innovation Fund, is establishing a new program to provide educators with free 3D printers and training in order to start youth enterprises for 3D printing at their schools.
  • littleBits rolls out a campaign to create local “chapters” in 100 cities by end of 2015, giving students, designers, engineers, and others an easy-to-access peer group of fellow makers in the open hardware community.

And, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Verizon, building on a pilot last summer, will embed a new coding course for girls within their 21-week-long STEM summer camps that will be held across 10 states in summer 2015.

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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