With the backing of Chevron and local philanthropy, the Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API) was launched five years ago. The initiative’s purpose is “to help develop a skilled workforce that can meet the needs of the energy industry and related manufacturing industries” within a twenty-seven county region that encompasses Southwestern Pennsylvania, Northern West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio. With a rapidly growing natural gas industry in the region, improving the STEM skills of workers is critical to meeting the human-capital needs of employers.
To gauge progress, API tapped the RAND Corporation to conduct periodic analyses about project implementation (my review of an earlier paper is here). While API also invests in adult workforce training, the focus of its latest report is the initiative’s efforts to bolster STEM education among the region’s K–12 students. API articulates four goals: 1) raise young people’s awareness about STEM career opportunities; 2) promote the acquisition of skills needed for those careers; 3) provide professional development for teachers and career counselors; and 4) develop networks between students and employers through activities such as mentoring or job-placement.
It’s important to note at the outset that this report does not provide evidence about the initiative’s effects on student achievement outcomes. Rather, it offers a useful overview of the programs that API helped to support, which students participated in them, and how the initiative helped to create connections within communities. To provide this type of descriptive portrait, the analysts rely on self-reported data from providers along with interviews with program staff.
During the first three years of implementation (2014–17), API provided grants to seven organizations supporting anything from hands-on programming directly serving K–12 students, to STEM curricula and teacher development. To get a flavor of the program’s scope, a few specific examples are worth mentioning.
- The Education Alliance, a West Virginia nonprofit, has led efforts among eight West Virginia schools to implement new STEM programs based on the Carnegie Science Center’s STEM Excellence Pathway framework.
- The Central Greene School District in Southwestern Pennsylvania expanded its natural resources course, which assists high school students in attaining the skills and credentials needed for jobs in the oil and gas industry. (For great coverage, see this U.S. News article.)
- Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, raised awareness of STEM job opportunities, including a video contest that connects students with local manufacturers.
All in all, the RAND analysts estimate that API funded programs reach about 40,000 students per year in the tristate region. Yet the report also notes that participation is more heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but only “lightly represented” in Ohio. It’s not altogether clear why that is, though the lack of Ohio-based philanthropic support for API might explain some of it. Regardless, this seems to be a lost opportunity for Eastern Ohio students, many of whom struggle to reach the college-and-career-ready targets needed to excel in STEM occupations. Despite that setback—and c’mon Ohio!—the API approach of connecting businesses, nonprofits, and schools together in the mission of improving STEM education should be heartily applauded.
SOURCE: Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Shelly Culbertson, and Nupur Nanda, The Appalachia Partnership Initiative’s Investments in K-12 Education and Catalyzing the Community, RAND Corporation (2019).