Helping Kids Imagine Science

April 23, 2017
Mackay, Leo
Senior Vice President, Internal Audit, Ethics and Sustainability, Lockheed Martin

It doesn’t require rocket science to understand troublesome trends in U.S. education: The United States ranks 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations. Only 16% of American math-proficient high school seniors hold interest in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career. And only half of those who pursue a college major in STEM fields end up working in one. By 2020, the estimated supply-demand gap of U.S. STEM talent will reach 1.3 million.

This gap not only threatens our nation’s technological advantage—particularly in energy systems, materials science, and air mobility—but also affects Lockheed Martin’s talent pipeline and strategic goal achievement. To help close the gap Lockheed Martin began working with schools to expose K-12 and university students to hands-on, meaningful STEM education activities. A key focus involves tapping undeveloped engagement among underrepresented groups—including Hispanics, African-Americans, women, people with disabilities, and first-generation Americans—who might otherwise lack exposure and access to STEM education.

Imagine Science

The company is drawn to multi-stakeholder partnerships. In 2015, Lockheed Martin funded the pilot program for Imagine Science, the first-ever national joint-operations effort to design and implement STEM programs for youth most in need. Four of the nation’s largest and most successful youth development organizations—National 4-H Council, Girls Inc., Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the YMCA—joined forces for the first time to inspire underserved children ages 8-14 to enroll and participate in STEM programs. In this partnership, the four national partner organizations coordinated with their local affiliates in three diverse communities (Dallas, Texas; Omaha, Nebraska; and Orange County, California) to deliver STEM programs according to a three-tiered program model:

  • Tier 1 - Exposure Events: Activities that introduce STEM learning and positive youth development connection (target average: two to four hours per youth)
  • Tier 2 - Exposure & Engagement: Day-long or noncontinuous multiday activities; i.e., workshops or competitions (target average: four to eight hours per youth)
  • Tier 3 - Engagement: Multiday activities integrated into existing programming that sustain engagement over a one- to three-week period, typically including project-based activities, problem solving, and a culmination/capstone experience (target average: 20-30 hours per youth)

Our Outcomes

We affirmed demand in underserved and underresourced communities for programming that can create positive change around STEM education: 78% of Tier 2 (four to eight hours of programming) participating youths said that they had preexisting yet unrealized interest in science. Imagine Science provides them with experiences that help to cultivate that interest. More than 70% of youths attended over 50% of scheduled programs, demonstrating sustained involvement. Finally, 64% of participants reported an increased interest in STEM, including STEM careers and STEM education at the high school and college levels. This is critical because of steep drop-offs in middle school math achievements among U.S. students.

Who We Reached

  • Imagine Science reached 4,044 youths in its pilot phase.
  • Seventy-seven percent of participants were from low-income backgrounds.
  • Seventy-eight percent of participants were persons of color.
  • Across the three pilot communities, the partner organizations delivered 100 events: 37 Tier 1 events, 16 Tier 2 events, and 47 Tier 3 events.
  • Over 77% of participants engaged in more than 20 hours of STEM programming, 26% of whom experienced over 30 hours.

Our Impacts Did Not Go Unnoticed

  • From partners: One of our partner organizations reported that it was able to serve three times the number of low-income youths that it had during any other prior summer.
  • From schools: “Imagine Science is making school viable for my kids in the fall by what’s happening here now with them in the summer.” —School Principal, South Dallas, Texas
  • From communities: The Omaha Public Library system has requested to partner with Imagine Science to help fill programming gaps and to explore the development of STEM activity kits for Omaha Public School teachers to check out from the library.

Lessons Learned

We exceeded our goal for participants from low-income backgrounds by 26%, yet did not exceed in other areas. The level of effort required to recruit underserved youth was higher than local teams anticipated. As a result, the overall local estimates of youth engagement (originally 5,000) as well as the target rate for persons of color (84%) fell a bit short. This fact underscores the tremendous need and opportunity to rally extraordinary levels of combined assets to engage certain disenfranchised groups.