Kemi Jona Works on State Effort to Establish STEM ‘Learning Exchanges’

Kemi Jona Works on State Effort to Establish STEM ‘Learning Exchanges’

Kemi Jona and Pat Quinn

Preparing Illinois students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is the goal of a new state plan to establish “learning exchanges” linking educational opportunities and business resources. SESP research professor Kemi Jona, director of Northwestern University’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP), has been involved in the state effort and advises one of the new STEM learning exchanges.

Illinois governor Pat Quinn recently unveiled a $10.3 million partnership among business, education and government to develop the new learning exchanges, with state funding coming from federal Race to the Top funds. Eight organizations will be awarded contracts to develop the exchanges, which will combine educational resources with practical experiences in the workplace.

“The State of Illinois has demonstrated its commitment to STEM education by allocating part of its Race to the Top award towards establishing STEM learning exchanges. These resource centers are unique public-private partnerships that have galvanized industry support for STEM,” says Jona.  

Jona is on the advisory board of the Research and Development Learning Exchange led by the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC).

 “I'm proud to represent Northwestern University as part of the Research and Development Learning Exchange. This exchange will provide us with a channel for disseminating the work we are doing at OSEP on a statewide basis,” he says.

OSEP connects K-12 schools with the cutting-edge resources of Northwestern University. The office assists schools in three primary areas: teacher professional development, creation of new STEM programs and technology, and capacity building for schools.

With its innovative use of technology and Northwestern expertise in both STEM and education, OSEP allows students to learn cutting-edge science in engaging ways. Offerings include remote online laboratories, after-school programs featuring highly motivating science challenges, a biotechnology teaching curriculum and science research project mentoring. Last year OSEP served approximately 22,500 students and 280 teachers at 84 schools.

By 2018 Illinois will have an estimated 319,000 STEM-related job openings, according to a 2011 report from Georgetown University. About 93 percent of those jobs will require post-secondary education or training. STEM learning exchanges are intended to be an avenue for preparing students for the 21st-century job market.

The funding package for the learning exchanges includes $2.3 million in federal Race to the Top funds, which leveraged another $8 million in business resources. The eight STEM Learning Exchanges, selected by a review committee, will be established through contracts with the Illinois State Board of Education. These statewide learning exchanges will work with regional, educational and business networks to draw together curricular resources, assessment tools, professional development, work-based learning opportunities and problem-based learning challenges, according to the State of Illinois.

Caption: SESP research professor Kemi Jona, director of the Office of STEM Education Partnerships, talks with Illinois governor Pat Quinn on the day Quinn announced the $10.3 partnership for STEM learning exchanges. (Photo by Harvey Tillis)

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/7/17