TERC Selected to Lead New Informal STEM Learning Equity Resource Center (ISL-ERC)

ISL-ERC will build upon the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education’s (CAISE) work to enhance access and equity-centered practices in STEM learning
Dear Colleagues, 

We are pleased to announce that TERC has been selected to lead the new Informal STEM Learning Equity Resource Center (ISL-ERC) for the National Science Foundation’s Advancement of Informal STEM Learning (NSF-AISL) program. We are ecstatic to receive this prestigious award and for the opportunity to help substantively transform the landscape of informal STEM learning (ISL) research funding by enhancing access and equity-centered practice in the coming years. It is an honor to pick up the mantle of the phenomenal work the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) has done for the past 15 years. Much like CAISE, we will continue to provide resources and tools while fostering a thriving community of researchers and practitioners through the InformalScience.org website, including its extensive, searchable repository. We are collaborating closely with CAISE, our partners, and NSF-AISL to ensure a stable transition that continues to serve the field efficiently.

WHO WE ARE

The ISL-ERC is a collaborative effort stewarded by its diverse leadership and advisory team at TERC with critical partners and advisors. Below is a list describing the organizations who will contribute to developing and operationalizing the vision for equity through Center activities: 

  • TERC – A STEM education research and development nonprofit dedicated to inspiring and engaging learners through cutting-edge research, content and curriculum development, technology innovation, professional development, and program evaluation. TERC aims to create equitable STEM learning environments that address the needs of all learners and practitioners. TERC will lead and manage the activities of the Center (Principal Investigator: Stephen D. Alkins, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging; Co-Principal Investigator: Lisette Torres-Gerald, Senior Research Associate & Project Coordinator
  • Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) – A nonprofit organization that operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. Among other aspects, the DZS inspires diverse communities with engaging, meaningful, memorable experiences and equitable opportunities that encourage appreciation and stewardship of nature. DZS also demonstrates organizational excellence consistent with a commitment to outstanding service, as well as progressive and responsible resource management. DZS will serve as a co-lead for the Center (Co-Principal Investigator: Diane Miller, Vice President of Education
  • Digital Promise (DP) – An organization that works at the intersection of education leaders, researchers, and technology developers to improve learning opportunities for all and close the Digital Learning Gap. They will creatively, iteratively, and nimbly co-design (with TERC) a multi-purpose digital hub. They will also implement, host, and maintain the InformalScience.org website and any assigned tools, providing communications for Center constituents. Lastly, they will co-design the structure for affinity and interest groups and lead the onboarding and ongoing support for facilitators of these groups who will come from the AISL community. 
  • Organic Oneness (OO) – A grassroots social justice organization that co-creates with communities to mobilize systemic change, healing and wellness, foregrounding Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. OO will facilitate affinity groups to help staff of color thrive in and transform institutional spaces. 
  • CAST – A nonprofit education research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework and UDL Guidelines to make learning more inclusive. They will advise and consult on creating tools for the Center: accessibility of all materials, compliance with current web accessibility guidelines, leverage of the UDL framework in its design of all materials to maximize engagement and usability, integration of the CAST-led UDL Rising to Equity initiative with the Center’s vision for social justice and intersectional equity, and the dissemination of the Center’s events and resources at relevant events.  
  • Accessible Technology Services (Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler) – As founder of the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center and the Access Technology Center (ATC) at the University of Washington, Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler promotes the use of mainstream and assistive technology and other interventions to support the success of students with disabilities in postsecondary education and careers. She will provide guidance on supporting individuals who are deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired.  
WHAT WILL THE ISL-ERC DO? 

The Center will advance equity within ISL through (a) diverse, cross-sector, community-building and sharing of resources and ethical practices; (b) bolstering infrastructures to extend research capacity and expand access to funding; (c) promoting critical reflection and dialogue on factors that underlie systemic inequities; and (d) inclusive communication and culturally responsive evaluation that broadens participation and promotes organizational change.   

Evidence suggests that diversity, equity, access, inclusion, and belonging-related organizational change is difficult to achieve at ISL institutions, leading to inequitable STEM education opportunities, particularly for marginalized groups. This necessitates creative and innovative approaches that address historical and current realities of intersectional marginalization within STEM to disrupt conventions, institutional barriers, and patterns of inequities that privilege dominant cultural groups (e.g., white, male, able-bodied, etc.). The Center will use a targeted universalist approach based in critical frameworks that centers the voices of the most marginalized in ISL, with a focus on expanding knowledge of equity-oriented practices in ISL programming, research, and communication to help pursue AISL and other NSF funding. 

We believe the Center will cultivate lasting change in the ISL, and broader STEM education ecosystem via (a) more inclusive, culturally relevant, and responsive ISL programs; (b) more scalable, equity-focused research findings useful in ISL programming serving marginalized learners; and (c) greater public awareness of the importance of broadening participation in ISL. The Center will diversify the portfolio of federal-funding recipients, build trusting relationships among historically disenfranchised communities, and normalize ISL as a formal aspect of STEM education career pathways. Shared findings will reveal the richness of STEM learning experiences in enhancing access and building strengths of all learners. New programs will promote leadership by people from marginalized backgrounds and adapt AISL-funded program components for their own use, empowering new learners and leaders with diverse perspectives to influence informal STEM, thus fostering and fortifying safe spaces of belonging in STEM. This will result in a more informed public that values STEM in everyday life, work, and global citizenship, and recognizes its role in advancing a more just and equitable society.

There is a lot of coordination for our new team and much excitement and anxiety in the field. Because of this, we plan to move quickly and efficiently, but also at a pace that fortifies trust and clarity among us as a Center team and each other as trusted colleagues. Throughout this transition period you can still email caise@informalscience.org with questions, requests, or concerns. Meanwhile, stay tuned on InformalScience.org and the NSF AISL websites for more information as it becomes available.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve and substantively transform the field in this unique capacity and for your time and energy in this endeavor. We look forward to the great work that lies ahead.    

Sincerely, 
Informal STEM Learning Equity Resource Center Executive Committee (Stephen D. Alkins, Lisette Torres-Gerald, Diane Miller)