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District : Maricopa County Education Service Agency

State : Arizona

Level : P-12

District Enrollment : 1,001-10,000 students

Community Type : Suburban, Urban

Related Tags : accessibility, strategic planning

Developing a STEM Identity

Maricopa County Education Service Agency (MCESA), under the direction of Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools, is dedicated to ensuring that all school-age children in the county graduate college- and career-ready. MCESA builds alliance partnerships that provide leadership, services and programs in the areas of Educational Innovation, Economic Management and Executive Leadership.

The Challenge

Many Arizona students are currently missing out on innovative, high-paying science and technology jobs, but the Maricopa County Education Service Agency is working to reverse this trend through a new state-of-the-art program.

More than half of Arizona’s high school graduates are not eligible to attend a university and, according to the Science and Engineering Readiness Index, Arizona students test far lower in math and science than their peers across the country. That leaves many Arizona graduates unable to compete in science, technology, engineering and math in the national arena, ultimately, giving up local –and national— jobs in these fields to graduates from other states and countries.

Research indicates that a major part of the problem is that students cannot identify with professions in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, known as “STEM.” Some simply don’t see themselves as scientists or engineers. Others may not believe these careers to be socially acceptable or “cool.” Still others lack self-confidence and don’t have accessible role models in these industries— there just aren’t any footsteps to follow.

The Solution

The Maricopa County Education Service Agency has developed Engineering STEM Identity, a program aimed to create more interest and engagement in these fields.

“We are doing these things in order to increase the persistence of students in the STEM fields,” said Gale Beauchamp, Engineering STEM Identity project director. “Student identity is the leading predictor of student persistence in STEM, so that is our focus.”

“A student might not feel like they connect to a discipline if they don’t find it appealing or socially acceptable,” she continued. “Our professional development support helps teachers with a highly constructive curriculum that, if implemented, can correct that. It actually helps students feel more like scientists, engineers or mathematicians because they do science like scientists.”

For teachers, the program includes curriculum, professional development, coaching and increased support within school leadership. The coaching component provides teachers with additional support with the curriculum throughout the year.

Engineering STEM Identity is also designed to bring role models into the classroom via interactive video conferencing. These role models are STEM professionals trained to engage and excite students through conversation and connection. The role models, typically located in metro Phoenix, are transported to the most rural areas of the state using state of the art technology. Distance barriers are broken down, and students and teaches are given access to professionals they otherwise may never meet.

The program is in effect for 2,300 students in 16 schools within 10 rural and urban school districts.

“The underlying premise is not too complicated,” explained Beauchamp. “We want kids to identify with science, math and engineering so they keep growing in their interest in STEM careers, and we have developed a plan for them to do that. As we focus on supporting identity development, we will increase student achievement and engagement and also increase teacher confidence and pedagogical content knowledge. This is how we will have an impact on STEM education and, ultimately, the Arizona economy.”

From the U.S. Department of Education:

District Point of Contact

Phone: 602-372-7295