Precedent-Setting Collaboration in Dayton Fuels STEM for All

Gem City to STEM City

Dayton, Ohio, known to many as Gem City, could well sport another moniker: STEM City.

The label, STEM City, has been earned through a precedent-setting collaboration among dozens of partners who have worked together for years to serve learners while also addressing the STEM workforce needs of business and industry.

Anchored by key organizations, including DO STEM, the Dayton Regional STEM Center and the Ohio STEM Learning Network, STEM initiatives in Dayton have been well coordinated, robust and collaborative.

“We are very fortunate in the Dayton area that our Ecosystem and our Hub, through the Ohio STEM Learning Network, are relatively right next to each other and we are constantly working together to promote STEM education,” said Jessica Short, director of Dayton Regional STEM Center and DO STEM. DO STEM is one of the 110 Ecosystems affiliated with the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice. 

Short is the former principal of the Dayton Regional STEM school, giving her a unique perch for being able to lead coordination efforts between DO STEM, the Hub and the many other partners interested in elevating STEM opportunities in the Dayton region. 

One of the early partners to STEM work in Dayton was the Dayton Regional STEM School, Ohio’s first regional STEM program, established in 2009.

The Dayton Regional STEM School now serves families from more than 30 school districts in Montgomery and eight surrounding counties of the greater Miami Valley.

Dr. Robin Fisher, superintendent and chief administrative officer of the Dayton Regional STEM School, has been there from the beginning, when the school consisted of a single class of ninth graders. She believes that the humble start was crucial to the program’s long-term success.

With several key early supporters and encouragement from the State of Ohio, Dayton’s educational and business communities began to rally around the idea of a STEM school in 2007. When the school opened two years later, students who applied and were admitted on a lottery basis. It took several more years to expand the curriculum to grades six through 12. “Building slowly made us stronger, and we could correct mistakes along the way,” Dr. Fisher said.

Some of the early obstacles and challenges were based on misconceptions among parents and the wider educational community.

“When we first opened in 2009, one of the big things was a misunderstanding that we were a school that was only for gifted students or only for the brightest and best,” she said. “There was concern from local districts that we were just going to pull off the cream of the crop.”

In reality, the school was seeking to function as a learning lab for other districts with “outside the box” thinking and by taking risks that traditional districts weren’t comfortable implementing, she said.

Another misconception was that Dayton STEM wouldn’t be held to the same standards as other Ohio schools.

“There was maybe a level of jealousy in thinking that we had advantages that other schools did not. It was important to let them know that we were held to the same standards, that our students still had to take standardized tests, and that we still did a lot of reporting at the state level. We were just fortunate to be able to start with the mindset of design thinking and risk-taking strategies in education and being able to do things differently.”

Design for Inclusivity

A strong and inclusive design is also at the heart of why Short says that DO STEM has been so successful at helping to coordinate STEM work in the Dayton region and bring in so many partners.

DO STEM, for instance, recently collaborated with others for the “DO STEM Future Fair,’ where students and families came together to discover STEM careers.  

The first DO STEM Future Fair was held in 2022 at the Air Force Museum and attracted 400 middle school to high school students and families to visit with 40 different companies and organizations from higher education, industry and nonprofits. 

“The goal was to not only be able to showcase the opportunities that they have within their industry, but also have a discovery opportunity. And it was so wonderful to give them the chance to talk with these industries and higher education platforms so that they could begin to make plans,” Short said. “And this wouldn't have happened if not for the collaboration between the DO STEM ecosystem and the Ohio STEM Learning Network.”

DO STEM and the Ohio STEM Learning Network are joined by other collaborations with the Dayton Regional STEM Center (DRSC), a teacher-training institute for STEM education. It supports educators by designing curriculum aligned to workforce needs, training school leaders at the district and building level.

Short also serves as the director of DRSC. She said the center has three main focus areas:
  • Quality STEM curriculum
  • Professional development opportunities for teachers
  • STEM outreach programs for all educators and students in the Dayton region

The STEM Fellows program brings in groups of teachers twice a year for six months of training, pairing them with industry and higher education professionals. They collaborate as a team to develop high-quality STEM curriculum and then put it into practice. The curriculum is then published on the center’s website on an open-sourced basis for others.
“This has been going on for 15 years-plus now, and we are so excited to have hundreds of STEM curriculum lessons available for anyone in the world to be able to utilize and access in their own classroom,” Short explained.

The center’s ultimate mission is to enhance the region’s workforce pipeline to serve the needs of area employers, including the U.S. Department of Defense, which maintains a massive workforce at the Dayton area’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, built on the actual site of most of Wilbur and Orville Wright's early flight experiments and tests. The air base employs more than 30,000 people – among them hundreds of data scientists, chemists and engineers. Not surprisingly, the Department of Defense is an important funding source for Dayton’s STEM initiatives.  In 2019, the Dayton Regional STEM Center was chosen as one of four operational “hubs” of the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC). DSEC is a collaborative partnership that aims to broaden STEM literacy and develop a diverse and agile workforce with the technical excellence to defend our Nation. The consortium, aligned to the Federal STEM Education Strategic plan, seeks to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers through intentional investment in STEM enrichment programs for students, professional development for educators, and engagement with the civilian DoD STEM workforce.

Last Modified: 6/23/2023 12:24:43 PM