Last week, we gathered more than sixty STEMx leaders in Dallas for the 2016 STEMxchange conference. Each year, this is the extended meeting for STEMx members to sit down, chat, and plan collective action.

STEMxchange moves around the country each year. This year, Educate Texas, a founding member, played host. Coming from DC, it was easy to appreciate the warmer weather. I also got to meet many of the leaders from the network, and listen to their organization’s plans for 2017.

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Mike Feder, Director of STEMx, on the 2017 STEMxchange meeting

One piece was immediately clear: our network is growing. For the first time, we sat down with representatives from the networks that joined in 2016. From South Carolina to the Virgin Islands, Utah to West Virginia, we met many new faces, ready to get to work for students across the country.

But gathering is the easy part, what did we get done? Here are three tidbits from our discussions that you’re welcome to steal even if you couldn’t make it to the conference.

#1 – Make your case on the Every Student Succeeds Act with allies: We’ve talked at length about “ESSA” and its impact. At the conference, I heard from states who are working *with* potential competitors for funding. These states are sitting down with groups like their local afterschool networks to present a strong, collective message to policymakers. This is how we can make real, lasting change.

#2 – Education groups want to partner with state STEM networks: Education organizations have heard ESSA’s message for state-based leadership loud and clear. We hosted experts on the STEM Works database, Connectory Exchange and Learning Blade. Each group has worked in detail with a STEMx state network to bring their programs to scale. For example, the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network and Learning Blade worked together to offer the product to every school in the state. The schools get a new tool, and the network builds a relationship with teachers and principals. Most importantly, students benefit.

#3 – STEM schools in Texas are innovating far beyond what most people expect. Kyndra Johnson, of the Lancaster Independent School District shared some of their achievements, thanks to a lasting partnership with Experience Aviation. A few years ago, they built a street-legal race car, and now they building an airplane. Wings of Hope joined the team, challenging students to build a Cessna 182. The aircraft will be used in mission projects next year, bringing medical supplies and food to other countries.

Tackling the big problems of the world through STEM education is impossible without strategic alliances and savvy partnerships. Like 100Kin10’s Talia Milgrom-Elcott said, “Each of us has a piece of this work, and it’s only going to get solved if each of us plays our part in concert with one another.”

Finally, I can’t miss the opportunity to thank our sponsors. STEMxchange wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of the Overdeck Family Foundation, Battelle, Educate Texas, and Communities Foundation of Texas.

Look forward to more STEMxchange debriefs in the coming weeks, and keep doing your part to bring STEM education to kids across the nation.

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