It is impossible to not get excited about STEM when talking with Dr. John Omundsen and Kathleen Paul-Evans from Oasis Charter Schools. These innovative educators are passionate about sharing their knowledge regarding their journey into creating an inclusive and successful STEM program.
Omundsen, Director of K-12 STEM Education, met Paul-Evans, Media Liaison, through team teaching years ago. Their synergy is palpable and dedication to STEM educational success for all of their students is visionary—in and out of their direct classrooms. Dr. Omundsen is one of three candidates selected across the nation to receive the STEM Master Teacher Fellow for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and will begin his fellowship this upcoming spring break and summer.
Oasis Charter Schools is a municipal charter school system composed of four schools including two elementaries, a middle, and a high, that share one vision: “Everyone can succeed in a nurturing and secure learning environment with support from diverse and meaningful community partnerships.” Their belief continues to successfully create and maintain partnerships with the community, parents, educators, and the students they serve.
5 Discoveries from STEM Program Creation
Through a holistic approach, Omundsen and the charter school superintendent, Jacquelin Collins, have channeled their quest into developing their inclusive STEM program by making STEM accessible and engaging to everyone —including their educators, students, community and parents. Below are 5 discoveries from their program creation that they want to share.
1. CTE/STEM and the various STEM career paths’ needs to be offered to kids at an earlier age. Additionally, we need all students to have access to these STEM options to fill the employment gap.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) in STEM is a big issue across the U.S. and like Oasis Charter Schools, many districts are finding a favorable outcome by introducing STEM and Career Technical Education in the earlier grades so students can explore different career options prior to high school. Introducing these options in high school is considered by many as ‘too late’, as students do not necessarily have the time or units to explore a new career at this stage.
“We want kids to see themselves as successful in these careers. We want kids to start choosing STEM career pathways when they have time to explore. 10% of our middle school and high school are now considering a STEM pathway and we want to continue to increase this,” Omundsen explains.
Moreover, all four schools in their charter network have Makerspaces where students are introduced at young ages to solve challenging problems. Paul-Evans explains: “We found success building on the interest and curiosity that younger children naturally have, so we can funnel this excitement into high school.”
Omundsen and Paul-Evans continue to encourage their stakeholders on how inclusive STEM and STEM careers can be. Paul-Evans gives one example on how she explains the environment : “Maybe I am a great writer and can explain science to you, and this opens up a place at the (STEM career) table, and perhaps this career option is not something that they have ever considered before. We don’t want a fear of those four letters (STEM) anymore. STEM is a verb. We are trying to make kids see that this is something everyone can do, and not just the gifted kids.”
2. Act Locally: take a look at the job needs within your community and plan a career-ready program with the latest technology.
When Omundsen looked at addressing the job needs within the community, the most obvious career path option was in health care, specifically the Biomedical pathway. As they began building this program, they searched for real world and relevant career-ready curriculum which would be engaging, and entice kids to pursue the foundations of this career path at an earlier age.Omundsen expanded,“When we saw real world applications of NeuroMaker, we knew this would expand this engagement and prepare our students with career ready experiences. We were adamant about getting industry-aligned solutions so kids can see a real meaningful product.”
3. Involve industry leaders in your program to figure out where you want to focus.
Omundsen and Collins are passionate about STEM accessibility for all. While developing clear pathways that can lead either to a career-ready certification or higher education, they developed an advisory board of industry professionals. The conversations that ensued with this board gave them a pathways roadmap of where they should focus: cybersecuritiy, video game design and robotics.
4. Help educators realize their own STEM potential to get buy-in
After having some conversations with their staff, they found that some members felt that STEM was daunting to teach, as well as classroom-manage. After this discovery, Omundsen also worked with Oasis educators to see their own creativity and ability to problem-solve, even if STEM was intimidating for them.
Additionally, Oasis STEM took on the project of working with individual teachers, and modeled the importance of including all kids in the project courses—not just the advanced students. Over a 2-3 day span, teachers were shown how to successfully implement this philosophy and student engagement significantly went up, along with students’ positive self-thinking about their ability to problem solve.
Additionally, Oasis STEM created professional development for educators where they can tinker, make mistakes and create and ultimately take this knowledge back to their colleagues and professional learning communities. Omundsen started this process with early adopters, and once teachers experienced success, coursework becomes meaningful. Omundsen elaborates: “It wasn’t just about the kids. It was about getting that buy-in from the educators.”
5. Getting parents excited about STEM
Communicating the career/college options and overall STEM plan to parents is key. Paul-Evans continues, “Our end game is for students to have the mentality that they can go anywhere and to have a skill set for work and/or college. Parents want their child to be self-sufficient and successful—-and we provide the path to that.”
“The game changer is access.”- Kathleen Paul-Evans
Wrap Up on STEM Program Implementation
This approach to bringing all stakeholders into STEM has been what has made the Oasis STEM program thrive. With the current and expanding tech worker shortage, our global economy needs more STEM workers than ever, and by expanding this access to all and at an earlier age, it opens up more interest.
Summing it up, Paul-Evans states, “When we give all STEM users the opportunity to create, and they can be successful and share the knowledge, that changes minds. We are working on bringing that mindset to other schools.”