Innovators Bring STEM Expertise, Enthusiasm into the Classroom: Winners of Partnering for Excellence Competition Emphasize Real-World Skills

Grantees in this story

Eight winners were announced today in Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, a national competition for innovative approaches to inspiring STEM-rich learning in our classrooms by connecting students with STEM professionals. Top prizes were awarded to the National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future and Purdue University College of Engineering’s EPICS High.  

The winners identified creative ways to bring STEM professionals into schools to use their talent, knowledge, and real-world skills to engage students, particularly in our high-need communities, in rich STEM learning in partnership with teachers and schools.  

Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Opportunity Equation, and Ashoka Changemakers® were inspired to host the competition by a paradox: the strength of the nation’s STEM expertise in industry, universities, and the public sector juxtaposed with the persistent STEM teacher shortages and inadequate learning outcomes in many schools. They designed the Partnering for Excellence competition to unearth and elevate partnerships between STEM professionals and schools to teach STEM content and skills in ways that are meaningful for students, meaningful for adults, and sustainable for employers.  

“Our communities are filled with an enormous wealth of STEM talent, from our labs and museums to universities and corporations,” said Michele Cahill, vice president for national programs, Carnegie Corporation of New York, and co-chair of the Opportunity Equation. “The know-how of these STEM professionals is ideally matched with the hands-on, self-directed, purposeful and on-demand way in which today’s students learn. This competition is unleashing and bringing to light designs for ‘long-term/part-time’ approaches to connect STEM professionals to classroom teaching and learning.”  

Two Innovative Solutions Receive Judges’ Awards

The competition judges selected the National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) and Purdue University College of Engineering’s EPICS High to receive the Judges’ Awards out of a pool of ten finalists.  

NCTAF STEM Learning Studios exemplify the competition’s vision by partnering teams of teachers with STEM professionals to develop and implement hands-on projects in classrooms ranging from quantifying school energy use to building fuel cells with a NASA engineer. 

EPICS High was unanimously selected by the judges for its focus on engaging students in high-needs communities by immersing them in the design and manufacturing of products that benefit local social service agencies. The project-based learning initiative succeeds by forging partnerships with the STEM community to promote hands-on, project-based learning. The judging panel included Dr. Bruce Alberts, Tim Brown, Michele Cahill, Caroline Kennedy, Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis, and Dr. Robert Moses.

The winning entries will each receive $30,000, supported by Google, Alcoa Foundation, the AFT Innovation Fund, Carnegie Corporation, and Opportunity Equation, to expand and strengthen their innovative design.  

People’s Choice Winner Citizens Schools: Connecting STEM Professionals to Classrooms  

The public voted Citizen Schools as the People’s Choice winner from ten finalists. Citizen Schools connects STEM professionals to high-need schools where they can share their expertise and enthusiasm through hands-on projects, inspiring middle school students to pursue STEM careers.  

This winning entry will receive $20,000, sponsored by Carnegie Corporation, Opportunity Equation, and Noyce Foundation.  

Special Focus Prizes

Recognition and monetary prizes for entries with a particular focus have been awarded by sponsors representing industry, philanthropy, and the non-profit sector. These sponsors selected the following six special-focus winners from a pool of 34 of the strongest entries:  

Technology Access Foundation received the ExxonMobil Foundation Prize, a $10,000 award for an innovation focused on students in middle school (grades 5-8). The TAF Academy brings together teachers and STEM professionals to improve teachers’ understanding of real-world STEM applications and to facilitate direct student interaction with STEM experts.  

High Desert Leapin’ Lizards, Inc. and Tufts University Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program (STOMP) both received the Jhumki Basu Prize. Each winner will receive a $10,000 award for democratizing science education in the United States. Partnering with the local community college and the Department of Navy, High Desert invites STEM experts to teach renewable energy, chemistry, robotics, and rocketry classes. STOMP pairs teachers with undergraduate engineering students to implement open-ended engineering design projects in classrooms.  

National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) received the Amgen Foundation Prize, a $10,000 award for an innovation that demonstrates an effective partnership model enhancing STEM learning through inquiry-based methods.  

Biotech Partners and the Department of Chemistry at California State University, Bakersfield both received the Innovations in Life Sciences Prize, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Each will receive a $10,000 award for innovations that promote partnerships between scientists and science educators at middle and high schools in the life sciences. Biotech Partners engages STEM professionals in the classroom in a variety of capacities, and also partners with STEM corporations and institutions to give students paid internships to experience STEM careers. Cal State, Bakersfield’s “Chemical Circus!” program engages faculty and students in hands-on interaction with local community youth. 

During the coming months, Carnegie Corporation, Opportunity Equation, and a coalition of partners will build a community of practice to share ideas and continue to expand the “long-term/part-time” sector for innovative approaches to strengthen STEM learning for our nation’s students. The 34 strongest entries from the competition have been invited to pilot this initiative.

About Carnegie Corporation of New York

Carnegie Corporation of New York is a philanthropic foundation created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to do "real and permanent good in this world." To promote and preserve a robust American democracy, the Corporation supports expanded opportunity through education. The foundation’s work enables many more students, including historically underserved populations and immigrants, to achieve academic success and perform at the highest levels of creative, scientific and technical knowledge and skill.  

About Opportunity Equation

The Opportunity Equation initiative promotes equity and excellence in mathematics and science education. The initiative is a partnership between the Institute for Advanced Study and Carnegie Corporation of New York, and it was created to carry out the recommendations of the Carnegie-IAS Commission on Mathematics and Science Education in its 2009 report, The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy.

About Ashoka Changemakers®

Ashoka Changemakers is a community of action that connects social entrepreneurs around the globe to share ideas, inspire, and mentor each other. Through its online collaborative competitions and open-source process, is one of the world’s most robust spaces for launching, discussing, and funding ideas to solve the world’s most pressing social problems. Changemakers builds on Ashoka's three-decade history and belief that we all have the ability to be a Changemaker.