Students looking at Pocket Lab air sensor

Small Town STEM is an initiative designed to support youth and adults in rural Montana with a specific emphasis on towns with 2,500 or fewer people (78% of Montana towns).

Our objectives are to:

• introduce youth in small towns to STEM activities and role models

• increase youth awareness of and interest in STEM careers and studies

• create a cohort of adults dedicated to STEM who can sustain programming after pilot initiatives 

• increase STEM confidence/STEM identity in both youth and adults.

• build a system and network for sharing STEM resources of particular interest to people in Montana’s small towns.

Rationale

National studies have shown that youth in rural communities have fewer opportunities for high-quality STEM learning than their peers in urban and suburban areas. In a Spring 2016 Montana State University focus group, some students who hail from small towns and reservation communities reported that they grew up with no STEM programming other than the basic science and math courses offered in school (and smaller schools generally offer fewer STEM courses overall than larger schools).

Methods

Our goal is to build an infrastructure that specifically reaches youth in these rural communities by: 

• supporting their adult teachers and mentors via professional development, STEM materials and other resources; and 

• increasing youth access to STEM activities, role models and peer support in order to impact youth most likely to benefit from exposure to STEM programming. 

Ultimately, we hope these young people are made aware of the broad range of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—particularly those that are applicable to and available in rural areas—and know the pathways for entering those careers, should they choose to do so.

Small Town STEM program areas

Program areas include

  • Professional development, including travel scholarships
  • Traveling science and visiting role models
  • STEM kits and physical resources
  • Research, referrals and collaboration opportunities

Key partner: Montana Afterschool Alliance