Published On: March 24th, 2016

S.T.E.A.M. education connects technology, art to create ‘ladders’ for students, adults in search of careers drawing on 21st century skills


Just how important is the innovation economy to those who live and work in Cambridge and the surrounding region?

  • Almost 40 percent of the state’s workforce is employed in the innovation sector, far more than any other state.
  • Wages in the innovation sector are typically much higher than average wages, one reason for the robust economy in Massachusetts.
  • Massachusetts itself was ranked the top innovation hub in the country by Bloomberg News earlier this year.

In turn, the innovation economy itself is driven by trained talent – employees entering the workforce with critical skills. At the same time, there is a growing need to give young people access to learn the skills that provide access to opportunity and, ultimately, a share in the prosperity innovation generates.

One result has been the development of S.T.E.M. education – the letters stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math – which represents the effort to prepare young people, or adults with skills that fit the needs of the 21st century knowledge economy.

S.T.E.A.M. takes that strategy a step further by bringing the Arts into the mix. At the heart of this inclusion: the understanding that creativity drives innovation. Cambridge has been a leader in turning this insight into school strategy with long-term leadership from local educators and City Councilors.

That vision will be at the center of a public forum set for April 22 in Cambridge that has drawn an extraordinary array of supporters. Schools, businesses, civic leaders and groups are coming together to share the news that an integrated S.T.E.A.M.  program can serve everyone’s interests:

  • Businesses in the innovation economy who need trained and prepared workers,
  • Children and adults seeking greater opportunity by  sharing in the prosperity symbolized by the gleaming towers of Kendall Square,
  • And community leaders who seek greater equity for all in a region too often described as ‘A Tale of Two Cities,” where opportunity is not available to all in equal measure.

The Forum, titled Stoking a 21st Century  S.T.E.A.M. Engine: Rocket Fuel for the Innovation Economy, was conceived by a group of organizations that give an indication of just how wide a range of interests come together in the idea of S.T.E.A.M.

Members of the steering committee include The Agenda for Children, an out-of-school-time initiative serving schools and families in Cambridge: Cambridge Community Foundation, the only charitable foundation serving all of Cambridge; Just-A-Start Corporation, which works to build housing security and economic stability; the Kendall Square Association, which represents a neighborhood that serves as a global hub of innovation; the Metro North Regional Employment Board, which strengthens the regional workforce by giving residents critical skills; and SkillWorks, a regional partnership that creates pathways out of poverty by building access to family-sustaining jobs.

A growing array of partners

The heft and scope of organizations that have signed on in support of the Forum underscores the power of a focused educational and workforce strategy.

Among a growing list of sponsors are the City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Public Schools, the Cambridge Science Festival, and the Cambridge Expanded Learning STEAM Network (known as EL STEAM). Other education partners include, Cambridge College, Harvard University, Lesley University, MIT and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.  

Business sponsors include Biogen, Cambridge Innovation Center, Google, JP Morgan Chase Inc., Microsoft and Novartis.

Nonprofit sponsors include the Cambridge Nonprofit Coaltion, MassCAN (which focuses on the workforce need for computer science expertise) and the New England Venture Capital Association.

One measure of the appeal of the idea of a forum focused on S.T.E.A.M. – the Kendall Square Marriott Hotel, where the event will take place, has signed on as a sponsor, as well.

Expertise and common purpose

The program will start by framing the issues at stake, putting the day’s conversation in context. Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation will begin the forum and Deborah Ruhe, executive director of Just-A-Start will wrap up the day.

The global and local context will be laid out by the two keynote speakers, Sarah Ayres Steinberg, vice president for Global Philanthropy at JP Morgan Chase Inc., which recently announced a world-wide multi-year program of investment in skills training for adults, and Steve Vinter, site director for Google Cambridge, a long-term advocate for S.T.E.M. education.

A panel focused on lifting up cutting-edge collaborative strategies to build pathways into the innovation economy will be moderated by Philip Jordan, vice president and principal at BW Research Partnership, which works to analyze and present a clear picture of a dynamic economic landscape.

Panelists will include Denise Simmons, mayor of Cambridge; Jerry Rubin, CEO of JVS (Jewish Vocational Service); Stu Shmill, dean of admissions at MIT; and Martha McKenna, Lesley University Professor and director of the Creativity Commons in Cambridge. Keynote speaker Sarah Ayres Steinberg will also join the panel discussion.

After the panel discussion, cross-sector table discussions will take place as attendees brainstorm ideas for a Cambridge pilot strategy that draws from industry professionals, teachers, students, representatives of higher education and nonprofits. The discussion will be moderated by Sharlene Yang, Cambridge’s new S.T.E.A. M. coordinator. Suggestions by attendees will be tweeted out to create an online body of idea to seed future conversations.

The forum is free and open to the public, although seating is limited and those who plan to attend are advised to register at . For information, call Ashley Coates at 6t17-918-7558 or email [email protected] . Press contact is David Trueblood at 617-319-5212 or [email protected]  .