Urban-core teachers, non-profit directors, Ph.D researchers, graduate students mentoring youth, business leaders and others in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) convened at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in early March to tackle the sticky problem of diversity inclusion. They attended the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded NEXTLIVESHERE: Social Change Innovation Summit. Locals were joined by NSF project grantees from around the country facing the same dilemma.
Cincinnati attracted NSF attention as the birthplace of collective impact, when partners from all sectors collectively address complex social issues. Backbone organizations form to support, monitor and measure the change on local, regional and national levels. NEXTLIVESHERE embraced NSF’s charge to increase minority representation in STEM, borrowing design-thinking from the arts to spend three days clarifying, defining and creating actions.
“Typical conferences talk at people expecting them to go home and make things happen,” according to organizer Dr. Kathie Maynard, an assistant dean at UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services. “Making real change is not for wimps and the work is hard. The conference allowed a cross sector group to engage in the real-life work of making things happen for our kids and our community.”
Locals-who-work-globally Ramsey Ford of Design Impact and Mike Fleisch of depict and the ValueWeb launched the event with a model shop. Participants built the current STEM system, represented as a leaky pipeline leaving minorities out, a box with too many entry barriers and isolated silos of knowledge. Collective-impact pundits led fire-starter conversations on creating the right culture, relabeling STEM as problem solving, finding the “secret sauce” for minority success, connecting STEM grads to employers and working with a common vision.
Firestarter Paul Schmitz, senior advisor to the Collective Impact Forum and an author, challenged the group “to be confident in our fullness and have humility about our emptiness. We must see community members for assets and fullness, not emptiness. That changes our work and how we work with each other.” He called out a social-justice thread embedded in the conference.