June 9, 2012
What’s the best way to make a dent in a really big problem? Put some big minds into a room, have them brainstorm some big ideas for two days – with breaks for food and inspiring examples of ideas that work – and let them know you expect them not only to THINK but to DO.
Such was the second annual Clinton Global Initiative America, held here in Chicago, this past June 7-8. A domestic version of the international Clinton Global Initiative, this is a convening with a purpose. Through the course of the event everyone who attends is expected to make a “commitment” towards making America a better place by creating jobs or improving education or peoples’ living situation. (They say it better on the website)
Alex Reeves asked me to be an advisor for the STEM Education working group. For the past six months, I and the other two advisors – Kumar Garg, Senior Policy Advisor from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Maya Agarwal Lundhagen of the Carnegie Institute for Advanced Studies and Director of 100K in 10 (an initiative working to train 100,000 STEM education teachers) – have been chewing on invitation lists and attendee recruitment, reviewing important and creative work emerging in science education, considering which organizations can – and have – brought ideas and funding to STEM education, developing the program goals and, (the hardest work of all) figuring out the agendas and facilitation plans for the precious three working sessions.
I’ll give the punch line here and if you’re interested in hearing highlights about CGI America (and seeing some photos) you can read on.
Project Exploration made a commitment at Clinton Global Initiative America 2012. We will be partnering with Citizen Schools to train and support 1,000 STEM professionals in Chicago to do outreach with youth over the next three years. We’ll work with Google, Fidelity, Cognizant, and Cisco to recruit scientists and engineers, get them ready to be volunteers in programs during school and after school. The STEM professionals will work in Project Exploration programs and other schools and programs around the city.
Given the brewing teachers’ strike, it was a little awkward to have the opening plenary center on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, talking about how to get people back to work. The Chicagoan in me couldn’t help but be excited that the event was even happening here. And when Randi said, “What goes on outside the classroom has a huge influence on what goes on INSIDE the classroom,” I couldn’t help but be excited that we might actually be making progress on education being a “whole enchilada” kind of endeavor.
In addition to the Kumar, Maya, and myself, Alex recruited five people to serve as facilitators for the topic-area working groups: Jan Morrison of TIES (Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM), Erik Schwartz of Citizen Schools, Jan Cuny of the National Science Foundation, Paloma Garcia-Lopez of the Maker Education Initiative, and Adam Frankel of Digital Promise.
We got people warmed up and then the group of 100+ participants moved to tables to get to their working group of choice: STEM professionals, Educational Technology, Engineering and Robotics, K-12 Teachers, Hands-On and Making, Computer Science and Gaming, Out of School Time.
This was a room of people who wanted to get to work. The group I facilitated, Out of School Time, had representatives from Sesame Street, Nascar, the After School Alliance, and Festo Corporation. Other groups had folks from Darpa, Motorola Mobility, and the Maker movement; we even kept Neil DeGrasse Tyson scanning the skies for possibilities.
Because CGI attracts individuals from organizations that don’t often have cause to come together, the working groups were able to get creative. In our group, the issue of bringing arts and what arts can do for young people as they work to find their voice and vision was an important theme.
“Put an “A” in STEM and you have “STEAM”– this phrase took shape in actual commitments. For example, Time Warner Cable and 826 National are partnering to bring science into after school creative writing programs around the country. (We’ll be piloting our own version of this with our buddies over at 826 Chicago this summer).
Many of the commitments are still being shaped and refined. The CGI America team takes the job of commitments seriously and most of the ones that get made come to fruition and have impact. You can get a flavor for the diversity and scope of some of the commitments that were made at CGI America 2012 HERE.
Along with the action-packed working sessions, there were plenary speakers, evening receptions, and a site visit to 1871 hosted by Kevin Willer of the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center.
AND best of all, working group advisors got a chance to have their photo taken with President Clinton. Of course I asked him to sign something for our students. He wrote “Explore and Discover” and signed it.
The closing ceremony was heady stuff as President Clinton read out some of the nearly 100 projects and partnerships that had taken shape during the convening. But even more than the work ahead, it was hard not to be inspired by the hope President Clinton described when assessing America’s strengths. According to Clinton the most important power we have is our youth.
Who am I to argue with that?