Taking the K-16 Partnerships Network on the Road

Posted by PHENND on January 21, 2019

By Caitlin Fritz, K-16 Partnerships Manager

Last fall, I was fortunate to represent the work of the K-16 Network at two conferences, almost back to back, in New York City and Austin, Texas. It is always a great experience to learn and reflect with others about the valuable work people are doing to support youth across the country.

Science Outreach

October began with the SciOut18 conference at Rockefeller University in New York City, hosted by RockEDU and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. This “unconference,” brought together a wide variety of folks who engage in science outreach, including researchers and faculty who work with K-12, science journalists, and even some who combine science with stand-up comedy. Everyone who attended exuded a clear passion not just for science, but for building a broader and more inclusive community where everyone can meaningfully engage with science.

I especially enjoyed learning about our neighbors up the I-95 corridor who are engaging in innovative science programming in the K-12 space. It was inspiring to hear how Rockefeller University, a biomedical research university, has provided institutional support for science outreach through RockEDU. A core component of RockEDU’s outreach is bringing students and families from New York City schools to campus for authentic lab-based experiences, including Science Saturday festivals where you can create artwork with bacteria! You can find out more by following their Twitter page, which also includes many pictures of the students showing off their experiments.

I also met the folks who work with BioBus, an organization that literally brings science into neighborhoods, through mobile and community labs. Stocked full of microscopes and run by scientists, students and families can explore fun, inquiry-based activities. They are on a mission to empower minority, female, and low-income students in NYC with a passion for exploring science. Check out a video of their work here.

College Success

As PHENND looks to build a learning community around improving the retention and success of underserved students on our campuses, I traveled to Austin, Texas for the Yes We Must Coalition annual conference. The Yes We Must Coalition is made up of 33 member campuses from across the country, predominately smaller, liberal arts colleges and universities, where more than 50% of the students are Pell-eligible. The conference brought together administrators and faculty  holding diverse roles, from college presidents, to science faculty, all of whom have a deep commitment to the success of low-income and first generation college students. One theme of the conference was the importance of data and the development of a data-use culture on campus. Some strategies proposed at the conference included reviewing student retention and success data at departmental meetings, cross campus committees committed to student success, and the creation of early alert systems. Check out the work of the Post-Secondary Data Collaborative for more ideas.

Another important take-away from the conference was that the way we talk about college success is important. One question asked at the conference that resonated was “why do we always talk about demographic changes on our campuses as challenges?” The changing landscape of higher education should be seen as an opportunity, yet it is hard to retrofit equity into systems that weren’t designed with equity in mind in the first place. Despite the large amount of inertia built into our institutions of higher education, I left the Yes We Must conference inspired and motivated for PHENND’s upcoming work on college success. Read more about the Yes We Must Coalition, with some white papers posted on in our new college success newsletter.

Upcoming presentations in 2019

The New Year begins with some exciting road trips (well, more rail trips on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional). Next month PHENND will be at the College Board Middle States Regional Forum in Baltimore, co-presenting with Maryland GEAR UP about the challenges and success of coordinating higher education partners in support of college readiness efforts. Then in March, we’ll travel north to present with our colleagues from GEAR UP at the School District of Philadelphia on the different perspectives of building multi-institutional partnerships for college access and readiness at the Eastern Regional Campus Compact conference in Rhode Island. Eden Kainer, Manager of our VISTA Project, will also present at ERCC on lessons learned about higher education partnerships through the VISTA program while working towards towards scaling up best practices to expand school partnerships city-wide.

I am looking forward to a year of continuing to learn and grow our K-16 Network!

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