The growing STEM Ecosystem in the Great Lakes Bay Region

Whether or not a workforce can meet the demands of the future depends on if it has the knowledge, skills and resources needed in order to succeed. Thanks in part to a few key efforts of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and several partners, our community is home to one of a few national ecosystems leading the charge. Such efforts are among the growing draw to the region for providing an evolving, hands-on and extensive amount of STEM activities for students of all ages.

With the goal of advancing the STEM pipeline in the region, the initiative kicked off in 2014 with the help of regional employers, educators and philanthropists. The efforts in the Great Lakes Bay are part of a broader national effort, called STEM Learning Ecosystems.

The Great Lakes Bay’s strong STEM Learning Ecosystem is one of the 68 national STEM Learning Ecosystems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research shows that out of school time (OST) programs can support student academic achievement, can play a role in improving overall academic achievement and can have positive effects on the personal and social skills of youth.

The Great Lakes Bay’s strong STEM Learning Ecosystem is made up of dynamic collaborations among schools, out-of-school time programs, STEM expert institutions, the private sector, community-based organizations and families. The effort is one of the 68 STEM Learning Ecosystems nationally, a network of more than 1,200 Out-of-School Time partners and 1,800 school districts that serves more than 33 million PreK-12 students in the United States.

The many partners in a STEM Ecosystem.

STEM Ecosystems were recently identified in a December 2018 federal report as a critical element to improving STEM literacy, feeding a strong workforce and an important factor in supporting a diverse learning experience both in and out of school.

Here are a few of the efforts of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance at work advocating for increased access to STEM programming, the advancement of out-of-school learning and enhanced collaboration in and among the region.

Access & Equity GrantsThe Access & Equity Grants were made possible with funding funding from Nexteer Automotive and East Central Prosperity Region MiSTEM Network.
With support form a pilot program launched by the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, with funding from Nexteer Automotive and East Central Prosperity Region MiSTEM Network, it was recently announced that seven pilot projects will be funded for 2019, including several in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Robotics, Coding and Engineering in Bay County: Essexville-Hampton Public Schools is continuing a partnership with teachers at Verellen Elementary, Cramer Junior High and Garber High School in coordination with the Boys and Girls Club of the Great Lakes Bay Region and the E-Ville Empire FIRST Robotics teams to teach engineering practices and block coding to underserved youth in Bay County with LEGO Mindstorm Extension Kits and sensors.

Boys & Girls Club of the Great Lakes Bay Region STEM Leadership Academy: The Boys and Girls Club centers provide a venue for students to engage with STEM programming, and this grant will equip Club staff members with a co-created set of lessons that can be rotated amongst the five Boys and Girls Club units in Bay and Saginaw counties.

Chippewa River District Library STEM Literacy Workshops: The CMU Center for Excellence in STEM Education Center aims to equip the Chippewa River District library system with additional non-consumables to supplement or extend the existing equipment. The effort will also design a set of STEM Workshop activities that can be rotated amongst the various library branch locations.

Equitable Access for 3-Year Olds Mathematics: Math in the Mail is a program in partnership with the City Rescue Mission of Saginaw and the East Side Saginaw Soup Kitchen to provide Math in the Mail kits to children that may not have an address to have a kit mailed to their homes. Each location will be provided with 40 kits to give to the families that they are supporting to allow young children the opportunity to engage in meaningful mathematics play with a parent or another adult.

Little STEMmers for Field Trips: The Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum (MPDM) and the Central Michigan University Center for Excellence in STEM Education (CESE) is partnering to offer “Little STEMmer” programming to children in need in Mid-Michigan. Through this partnership, MPDM will host STEM workshop experiences presented by CESE, called “Little STEMmers”, to children pre-K through third grade and their parents/caregivers.

Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum Family Scholarships: The Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum Family Scholarships project will provide 40 Head Start families with a full year membership to the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum to help to provide families with an opportunity to take advantage of the hands-on STEM learning.Lori Flippin, STEM Initiative Leader for the GLBRA.

Understanding the Nature of STEM in Kindergarten: This project links the kindergarten students, teachers, and families of Bay City Public Schools with the staff and STEM programming of Chippewa Nature Center in Midland. This connects CNC staff with BCPS classrooms at a critical time when new science curriculum is being adopted, providing a rich in-classroom and field trip experience focusing on science, exploration and inquiry for over 500 kindergarten students in Bay City Public Schools.

“The pilot programs are an important next step in bringing equitable access to fun and engaging programs aligned with the STEM curriculum taught in schools,” says Lori Flippin, STEM Initiative Leader for the GLBRA. “All projects will be implemented by January 2020 and the GLBRA will issue a follow-up report following all project completions.”

One key component of the pilot programs involves collaboration between organizations that serve students and out-of-school time programs that offer high-quality STEM programming. These pilot programs are the latest development from the STEM Impact Initiative, an effort led by the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance to create a roadmap for building a STEM talent pipeline in the region.

The Delta College Planetarium in Bay City is a stop on the STEM Passport.

The STEM Passport
A tour of several regional wonders, the STEM Passport Project aims to get students out and learning in their time outside of
school. As part of the effort, more than 17,000 students get discounted rates to numerous activities focused on STEM learning in the region.

There are 16 destinations on the initial launch of the passport, with more planned as the program evolves. The total current list includes discounts, perks and more to several community destinations where kids can participate in STEM-related learning:

  • Delta College Planetarium & Learning CenterThe Great Lakes Bay STEM Passport currently has 16 destinations.
  • Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum
  • Bay County Library System
  • Chippewa Nature Center
  • Public Libraries of Saginaw
  • Math in the Mail
  • Midland Center for the Arts
  • Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum
  • Saginaw Children’s Zoo
  • Castle Museum of Saginaw County History
  • Historical Museum of Bay County
  • Engineering for Kids
  • Midland Section of the American Chemical Society
  • Snapolgy of the Tri-City Area

“We have had some great success in the first year of the Great Lakes Bay Region STEM Passport and are planning to expand the project in the second year now that the initial pilot is underway,” says Flippin. “Over the course of the first two months of the passport project, we had nearly 300 students visit participating locations and we look forward to growing the program in the years to come.”

A student with his new STEM Passport at Herig Elementary in the Saginaw.

The Importance of Informal Learning

Informal learning is a powerful tool that can have a lasting impact, setting up habits for learning and knowledge that carry students beyond the traditional K-12 years.

Together, when combining all the numerous efforts in the Great Lakes Bay Region, these efforts make up the fabric of STEM education ecosystem in our community, and are complementary to existing events like Camp Infinity, put on my Dow Chemical and Saginaw Valley State University to focus on getting young girls involved with STEM early.

The programming also fits right in with local education efforts, like the newly converted Central Park Elementary School in Midland that was converted to a STEM school and reopened in 2017 and nature-based learning for all with the new Whiting Forest Canopy Walk that opened last fall.

If you know of an organization that would be a good fit for the STEM Passport Project as it expands to add more destinations, contact Lori Flippin at or (989) 695-6100.

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Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.