How to Host a STEM Program in Your Community
Want to host a STEM event that yields success at every level? STEM programs and events are at the heart of AAUW’s research and mission. By empowering girls in your community with science, technology, engineering, and math skills, you are building the next generation of women leaders. Follow these steps to ensure that your STEM program is successful!
1. Assess your community’s need.
Determine the demand for STEM programming for girls in your community. Ask around about other STEM events already planned in your area, such as science fairs, mathletes, FIRST Robotics, MathCounts, Design Challenge, or Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) clubs. What age groups do they cater to? Who is putting them on (local colleges, universities, and community colleges; high schools or middle schools; local businesses and community centers)? Notice what demographics are excluded from these programs due to financial constraints, lack of transportation, or other limitations and think about underserved groups that would benefit from STEM programs.
2. Determine your branch’s capacity.
Now that you have a better idea of what kind of STEM program fits your community, consider what resources your branch can put forward. Remember that you will need a space to hold the program; time to develop program curriculum and supplies as well as marketing materials; a budget to cover refreshments for your attendees, speaker travel, and gifts; and plenty of volunteers to carry out the event. Consider what can be donated and how much money you may need to raise. Are there other local AAUW branches that could provide volunteers or contribute in other ways?
3. Choose your program format.
Choose a program format that will suit your capacity and your community. Consider your target audience and what they would benefit from most. Is that a camp or a professional woman speaking about STEM? A day of activities just for girls or an event where parents and their girls come together to learn about STEM? Who will prepare the content?
4. Collaborate with diverse groups.
The community should be involved in the STEM event with an intention to form long-lasting ties and sustainable support for the program in the future. Make a list of diverse organizations that you can collaborate with to support the project. Consider local professional, educational, nonprofit, or association community groups that would be assets, such as chapters of the Society for Women Engineers, the Association for Women in Science, local PTA/PTO, Key Club, Honor Society, or corporate women’s affinity groups. They can help provide speakers or reach out to parents and their networks to spread the word.
5. Plan the logistics.
Dates and times: Consider your target audience’s schedule. Check school calendars and avoid scheduling programs during religious events or cultural holidays. Also make sure the event date does not conflict with other major events going on at the location where it will be held, including other groups using the space. Allow enough time to receive responses from speakers, order printed materials, and market the event. If part of your event will be held outside, consider the weather in your area as well. Space can be cheaper to reserve in the winter, but will you run the risk of a cancellation due to snow?
Places: Choose spaces that are neutral, nonreligious, and free, such as community centers, libraries, and schools. Some locations may even be an asset to the event, such as a community college with a laboratory or research facilities. Be particularly cautious in that some venues might be free but require that you use their catering facilities … often a very costly prospect!
Make sure you choose a location that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in terms of parking, entrances, restrooms, lighting, and other requirements. Many locations are already required to be ADA compliant, including schools, community centers, and hotels. Read AAUW’s Planning Accessible Events guide for more information on ensuring that your event is accessible.
Also consider whether your location is accessible by public transportation. Some interested individuals may not drive or have access to a personal vehicle. If your program location is not near public transportation, advertise and coordinate carpooling for those who may need it.
Food and refreshments: If you are going to have free refreshments at your program, make sure to offer options that meet various religious and personal preferences. If your program includes a meal, ask for dietary restrictions ahead of time. Also consider that a paid meal may be cost prohibitive for some attendees.
Funding: Consider partnering with another AAUW branch or local community organization to share the costs. You can also solicit funding from local corporations or businesses. Plus, some of AAUW’s Programs in a Box are also fundraisers!
Two excellent sources of funding for STEM programs are local corporations and businesses. Research any corporations in your area that have large STEM workforces, and reach out to them about supporting your event. Use your available connections to get in touch — do you know anyone who works there? Do you have any other connection to the business? Also think about organizations trying to project a positive image to the community. Local banks, cable companies, and others are vying for conscientious business ties. They can reach a large constituency of your community by sponsoring your event.
Lastly, don’t overlook “in-kind” donations. You’ll need pens, materials, bags, and more supplies. Companies are often happy to donate this type of item in exchange for the publicity you can offer them.
6. Spread the word.
How will you promote the event in your community? Market and advertise to local parents and schools as well as college students who may want to volunteer. Use outlets such as newspaper advertisements, flyers, press releases, or university websites.
7. Evaluate your work.
Evaluation is an important component of any event. Before creating an evaluation, determine what success looks like and how you will measure it. Is it in number of attendees or level of participation? A survey, interviews, or focus group can gauge whether the event accomplished what you set out to do and how well it was executed. Read more about best practices on using program evaluation and collaboration to engage girls in STEM.