Upstate STEM Collaborative: Awareness and Access to STEM-Related Experiences

In  November of 2011, Michelin Challenge Education and the Michelin African American Network hosted a luncheon to start a dialog among various stakeholders about developing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in the Upstate to prepare today's students for the workplace of tomorrow.

More than 100 people came to the luncheon, representing 25 Upstate organizations, and from that luncheon group, a task force was formed to discuss the best way to go about working with schools to promote STEM in the Upstate. The members of the task force came from K-12 and higher education, nonprofits, and industry.

With a steering committee in place, the task force developed a STEM strategic plan that included a "STEAM" (STEM plus the arts) program for middle school and a communication plan to create community awareness. The group embarked on a two-year study of the area's STEM educational needs, assets, and opportunities.

Dr. Nan Dempsey, who was already heading up the Upstate S2TEM Center, joined the task force early on and is the director of the STEM Collaborative. Dempsey's doctorate is in curriculum and instruction administration, and her passion for STEM education, and mathematics in particular, is impossible to miss after a few minutes of conversation with her.

The task force decided to create the STEM collaborative modeled after the Lowcountry STEM Collaborative in the Charleston area. With the increase of technical manufacturing in the Upstate, the challenge, says Dempsey, is not just to educate today's students for the demand created by industry, but to do it within the science curriculum standards. So, whereas the S2TEM Center works within K-12 schools, the STEM Collaborative works with those schools, the community, and industry.

The Launch, and Looking Forward

The collaborative was launched in November of 2013 with another luncheon hosted by Michelin. It is managed by the SC Coalition for Math and Science, and Fluor, GE, and Michelin are founding partners.

Four priorities make up the collaborative's focus in the first year:

  1. 1. A STEM asset map will be launched in the next few weeks. Funded by Clemson University Workforce Development group and SC Coalition for Math & Science, the map will be crowd-sourced. Users can click for STEM events and opportunities in their area (all of South Carolina). The map will be available to any interested party: students, parents, educators, etc.

  2. A program is being put together modeled after GE's "Pensioneers" program, known as Retired Engineers and Scientists. The program will recruit retired scientists and engineers and work with them to put together a 1-hour presentation that includes a talk about business & industry needs, and a hands-on design challenge. Since these experts may not have worked with young people, the program will work with them to shape their content to make it grade-appropriate.

  3. In order to get science to rural areas, the STEM Collaborative is partnering with Science on the Move, a 4H program that takes a variety of science programs to rural schools that may not have access to the science resources that urban and suburban schools do.

  4. The biggest priority in terms of planning and the potential to generate awareness is an as-yet-unnamed STEM festival to be held in April of 2015. The festival is to be a week-long extravaganza of exhibits, programs, and hands-on exploration.

Community Involvement

The STEM Collaborative is "all about engaging a diverse and talented community of leaders; building interests, confidences, and skills; partnering to do more than any one entity can do alone," says Dempsey.

To that end, volunteer committees are needed for each of the priority areas, and there will be several subcommittees (marketing, web development, arts, contests, initial launch/media, community involvement) formed to work on the festival. Anyone interested in getting involved in any of these areas should contact Nan Dempsey.

The STEM Collaborative's Vision and Mission

Vision:  Upstate SC is a national model for workforce development through the engagement of students and communities in STEM opportunities.

Mission:  The Upstate SC STEM Collaborative will pursue opportunities and possibilities that support our vision and positively impact the culture and future economic success of the Upstate and SC:

We will

  • ENGAGE a diverse, talented and energetic community of learners and leaders.

  • BUILD interests, attitudes, confidence and skills.

  • PARTNER to do more together than anyone can do alone.

  • INSPIRE where interests and opportunities collide.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina.You can find more of her work at