STAR Net STEAM Equity Project: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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The STAR Net STEAM Equity Project will help public library workers in rural communities offer outstanding, culturally responsive STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programming for their patrons, especially often-underreached Latino populations. To learn more, use the links below to jump to the following Frequently Asked Questions.

If your question is not listed below, please email ALA's Public Programs Office.

What is the STAR Net STEAM Equity Project, and what are its goals?

The STAR Net STEAM Equity Project will empower tweens and their families around equitable STEAM learning and career paths by leveraging their existing strengths, interests, and diverse cultures.

The United States’ ability to compete economically and find innovative solutions to emerging problems is increasingly dependent on a workforce that is skilled in STEM disciplines. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information on STEM areas that are in particularly high demand — and in many cases, have higher employment rates and salaries than non-STEM professions. Workers are needed in professions such as materials science engineering, cybersecurity, software development, petroleum engineering and data science. Positions in manufacturing that require STEM skills, such as machinists, operators, craftworkers, distributors and technicians, are also in demand.

To solve tomorrow’s problems and continue exploring our world and our universe, diverse and creative thinkers must be welcomed into STEAM learning and empowered to pursue STEM careers. With more than 50 million individuals, the Latino population is now the U.S.’ largest ethnic minority group and the fastest growing segment of the rural population, currently making up 9% of rural communities (USDA Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition). However, Latinos currently earn only 9% of STEM bachelor’s degrees and make up only 11% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce. The situation for Latinas is even worse. Latinas currently earn only 3.6% of STEM bachelor’s degrees and make up only 1.8% the U.S. science and engineering workforce. Research describes some of the challenges that Latino learners must overcome to succeed in science and engineering, such as poverty, language barriers (of both students and parents), acculturation, and prejudice and discrimination within schools.

Rural education systems support 11.4 million American children (compared to 14.6 million in urban areas), and these children bring with them their own unique daily interactions with science and engineering on farms and in the outdoors that can help them advance in STEM.

Public libraries in rural communities have the opportunity to bridge the gap and better prepare the next generation of Latino Americans for careers in STEM. With the support of the project team, participating public library workers will:

  • Collaborate and co-create gender-equitable STEAM exploration pathways with community leaders (especially those representing Latino populations) and youth. 

  • Actively encourage tweens and their families to persist in STEAM explorations in the library and beyond. 

Together, selected library partners and project leadership will:  

  • Learn how library workers can more effectively support tween interest and persistence in STEAM learning in their rural communities.  

  • Share what we are discovering about STEAM learning and community collaboration with library workers, educators, and those in STEAM-related professions. 

How can libraries better serve Latino patrons?  

See “What I Tell People When They Ask about Latinx Engagement,” by Miguel Ruiz, Supervising Librarian, Evanston (Ill.) Public Library to reflect and take positive steps forward.  

Note that the project team uses the term “Latino” in the application process but acknowledges that communities and individuals may identify as Latino/a/x, Hispanic, Chicano/a, or a variety of other terms. According to the Pew Research Center, communities and individuals may prefer country of origin labels.  

What do you mean by “STEAM exploration”? 

Going far beyond science, technology, engineering, art, and math alone, “STEAM” refers to a way of thinking and solving problems. STEAM involves developing and using one’s creativity, curiosity, critical thinking skills, and communication skills. STEAM explorations provide youth with opportunities to spark – and grow – their interests. Library workers and their community collaborators can play a critical role in connecting those interests to additional opportunities to learn and showcasing related career pathways. Regardless of their ultimate career path, STEAM learning also prepares youth to face everyday challenges, no matter what field they study and work in. Youth need continual opportunities and support in order to persist in their own STEAM learning journeys of self-expression/-improvement, creative problem solving, and curiosity.  

To help each community develop their own unique STEAM exploration pathways, all participating libraries will develop and maintain: 1) STEAM exploration spaces, 2) active STEAM learning programs, and 3) STEAM outreach kits. Each library will host interactive traveling exhibitions and be provided with online resources to generate excitement and ideas from the community. 

What benefits do participating libraries receive?

With support at the national level from the project team as well as local partnerships, the libraries will engage their communities through three STEAM learning pathways: 1) STEAM exploration spaces, seeded by STAR Net traveling exhibitions, 2) active learning programs, and 3) STEAM outreach kits.

Participating libraries will commit to a project term from late 2020 – 2024. Selected libraries will receive $15,000 to participate in professional development activities, support community partnerships and purchase materials as they customize STEAM learning experiences for their communities.

Professional development opportunities will include STEAM Equity Pre-Conference Workshops at ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition; in-person workshop (TBD); SciGirls CONNECT regional workshops (with community collaborators) on designing and facilitating STEAM programs and using STEAM outreach kits that are gender-equitable and engage Latino families; and virtual support from the project team through check-in calls and webinars.

What about the COVID-19 pandemic? What are your plans for adapting to the changing conditions? 

The STAR Net STEAM Equity Project is invested in providing safe learning experiences in partnership with selected libraries. See text noted with "Pandemic Pivot" throughout this document for various ways that this project can flex to meet the needs and conditions in your community, as the situation continues to evolve. 

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the requirements for participating libraries?

To supplement the STEAM Equity Project Guidelines, this FAQ will be updated throughout the application process with information on how the project team is responding to this evolving health crisis. Many project activities can be conducted online or with other adaptations. In person activities will begin no earlier than spring 2021. 

As it is safe to do so, selected libraries will perform the following project activities: 

  • Host three (400-square-foot) traveling STEAM exhibitions, each for an anticipated three-month period. Exhibitions are modular and need not be displayed in a single area of the library. Pandemic Pivot: The duration of each display period and tour timeline will be impacted by any further delays due to the evolving health crisis. In keeping with advice from the medical community, the project team and participating libraries will work together to: 
    • Encourage patrons to wash their hands before and after touching the exhibition;  

    • Support interaction between family/social groups, while at the same time, encourage six feet of separation from others; 

    • Have options for outdoor and at-home STEAM learning; 

    • Apply the latest cleaning standards in maintaining buttons, touch screens, and other easy-to-clean interactive components;  

    • Provide concrete ways for patrons to learn on their own mobile devices and/or other equipment that is not shared outside their own family/social group; and 

    • Adapt, as needed, to changing local needs and conditions.   

  • Promote and facilitate three intergenerational STEAM programs annually, with a particular focus on meeting the needs and interests of tweens and their families.
  • Co-create and lend three STEAM outreach kits, each consisting of Latina SciGirls resources, hands-on activities and off-the-shelf education products.
  • Co-develop and sustain a STEAM exploration space with content drawn from library collections and local community expertise, throughout the full length of the project. Pandemic Pivot: STEAM exploration spaces may be virtual in nature, in addition to any physical components that the library will provide. At-home activities and online games are available now for libraries to incorporate into their programs and services; see What free STEAM learning resources are available now to help me start planning? to access those resources. 
  • Convene annual STAR Net community dialogues to build relationships with key stakeholders who, in turn, inform the development of STEAM exploration spaces and STEAM outreach kits and advise on recruitment of diverse participants in programs. Pandemic Pivot: Many libraries are trying new ways to engage with community leaders – including through online conversations! 
  • Submit an annual report, detailing progress, using ALA’s online system.
  • Participate in evaluation and research activities.

What libraries are eligible?

Eligibility was determined through the Notice of Intent (NOI) process, based on community characteristics (described below) and library capacity. Eligible libraries that submitted a successful NOI were invited to submit a full proposal on August 11, 2020.

Public libraries in rural communities in the United States and its territories are eligible. For the purposes of this project, rural libraries are defined as those serving communities of under 25,000, and significant Latino population as a percentage greater than the 9% national average for rural America (USDA Rural America at a Glance, 2018 Edition).

How do I apply to be part of the STEAM Equity Project?

To best support the participating libraries and set the stage for youth development research, ALA is facilitating a two-step application process:

  • Phase 1: Notice of Intent (NOI) (May 1 – July 20, 2020). Interested library workers were invited to complete an NOI, providing information about their library, demographics and community needs. Applicants who submitted a Phase 1 NOI were notified of their eligibility status on August 11. 
  • Phase 2: Full invited proposals (August 24 – October 23, 2020). On August 11, eligible libraries that submitted a successful NOI were invited to submit a full proposal. Submissions will be assessed by a review panel of librarians and representatives of other educational and cultural institutions and disciplines, in collaboration with the sponsors. All applicants will be notified of their award status on November 20, 2020.

What will make a successful applicant?

Successful applicants will demonstrate that their library has the capacity to increase access to STEAM learning in their communities through:

  • Providing physical space for traveling STEAM exhibitions and ongoing STEAM exploration spaces
  • New and deeper community collaborations
  • Cultural responsiveness and willingness to engage with Latino families and collaborating organizations
  • Public programming

What free STEAM learning resources are available now to help me start planning?

The STAR Library Network (STAR Net) and SciGirls offer numerous excellent resources to help you start planning for the STEAM Equity Project.

STAR Library Network (STAR Net) is a vibrant, free network for libraries and their communities that explores new ways to bring science, technology and fun into your programs and services. STAR Net focuses on helping library professionals facilitate STEM learning for their patrons by providing “science-technology activities and resources” (STAR) and training to use those resources. Whether you are new to STEM or are building on past experiences, STAR Net offers resources and collaborations to take lifelong STEM learning to new levels in your library: 

  • Plan a community conversation to engage key collaborators: Community Dialogues allow libraries to learn more about movers and shakers in their community, and leverage their shared interests into action. They’ve also helped libraries reach audiences that may not feel comfortable coming to the library or fully using its resources. Libraries have worked with groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, refugee and immigrant services programs, faith-based organizations, out-of-school-time community organizations and tribal councils to better understand the needs of the Spanish-speaking community and make their libraries more inviting to that community. The Community Dialogue website provides template letters you can use to reach out to organizations, and suggestions for who those organizations might be. Pandemic Pivot: Many libraries are trying new ways to engage with community leaders – including through online conversations! 
  • Resources for library staff: STAR Net’s STEM Activity Clearinghouse is a collection of over 440 library-friendly STEAM activities that have been curated from across the web. Library staff can sort activities by age, cost, time, and other parameters, and each activity includes carefully selected resources that can help library staff more effectively facilitate. STAR Net includes many other professional development resources for library staff, including a robust webinar series, resources for creating STEM kits, collaboration opportunities, blogs, and much more! 
  • Pandemic Pivot: Resources for patrons to use on their own: Check out SciGames for a variety of STEM based digital activities, both online and mobile apps. Take a shot at building your own solar system with our newest version of Planet Families

SciGirls: SciGirls is TPT’s flagship project that combines a national PBS KIDS television series and website, digital games, professional development for educators and hands-on activities for children and families, all of which work together to inspire girls (and boys!) around STEM studies and careers. All children’s content is located at PBS KIDS, and all educator and parent content is on SciGirls CONNECT. Here are some highlights, all of which are available in English and Spanish:  

  • Resources for Library Staff:
    • SciGirls Strategies form the foundation for all SciGirls content. This set of research-based strategies help to foster gender equitable and culturally responsive STEM learning.  
    • Hands-on Activities are standards-based and scalable. 
  • Pandemic Pivot: Resources for patrons to use on their own:
    • SciGirls Episodes are 30-minute STEM adventures featuring real girls — not actors — and their science mentors. In the SciGirls episode "Escuadrón Espacial (Space Squad)," Texas SciGirls Katya, Mariana, Angela and Eloyda are inspired by the first Latina astronaut in space, astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, as they design their own water bottle insulators. 
    • Role Model Videos demonstrate relatable and real STEM professionals. Watch the inspirational video of Alma Stephanie Tapia, metallurgical and materials engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
    • Family Guides help parents support their children’s STEM learning.  

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DRL-1906172. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Above image courtesy of Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, Ill.