Join a Conversation on Informal STEM Education in Rural Settings

high desert museum rural 2

August 20th, 2019

I live in a rural part of a rural state. There are roughly 60 million Americans living in rural settings, and they’re often overlooked in STEM education efforts.

The Rural Informal STEM Conference, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and held in September 2018, was the first of its kind to bring together key innovators and experts in rural STEM learning outside of schools. Sue Allen, Jan Mokros, and I designed and led the conference as part of our work with the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.

The conference addressed questions about the overall status of informal STEM learning, focusing on the definition of “rural,” promising practices for equity, diversity, and inclusion in rural places, and ways that programs can assess their impact. Conference materials and the final report are posted here.

We asked conference participants to reflect on the following questions: What is the most important programmatic work on which the field of informal STEM should focus? What should be the priorities for policy decisions and funding? And how can we get broader involvement?

Their responses provided a place to start. However we want to engage the broader community of educators, program providers, and local decision makers in a conversation about where to go next. In the coming weeks, we’re organizing several opportunities to dig deeper into the conference findings so we can chart a path forward.

mmsa rural conference 2018 attendees

Learn about the findings with an introductory webinar

Next month, we’ll host multiple webinars to highlight and discuss some of the conference findings and recommendations. Each webinar will cover the same content, and each will be limited to 30 participants to allow for conversation among attendees. Register here.

  • Thursday, September 5, 7–8 p.m. ET 
  • Friday, September 6, 11 a.m.–12 p.m. ET
  • Monday, September 9, 7–8 p.m. ET
  • Tuesday, September 10, 4–5 p.m. ET

Join a full week of discussion with your colleagues

During the week of September 30 to October 4, we will host a forum on, open to all, where you can more deeply discuss questions and issues that emerge from the report and webinar. This will be a chance to share your experience, learn how others are working in rural areas, and dig into some of the meaty issues with your colleagues. Sign up here if you’re interested, and we’ll send you more information closer to the date.

How to prepare for the webinar or forum

  1. Read the conference report (it’s not too long!)
  2. Consider questions such as the following:

    • How do you personally define “rural”?
    • How do you address inclusion in your work in rural informal STEM education?
    • What strategies have you used to build community support?
    • How do you measure impact?
  3. Think about what you would like to know about rural informal STEM education.

If you couldn’t attend one of the webinars, you can always view the recordings that we’ll archive on the conference website a week prior to the start of the forum. I look forward to hearing from you during the webinar or forum!


high desert museum rural 1

The photos in this blog are courtesy of High Desert Museum in Oregon.

Tom Keller previously worked as a Senior Research Scientist at the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance in Augusta, Maine. Prior to that, Tom was the inaugural Executive Director of the Maine STEM Council and chaired the Maine STEM Collaborative. He recently transitioned into independent consulting.