Allentown, PA

Opportunities in Allentown, PA

STEM Valley Mentoring Coalition

To get involved, contact Kate Popejoy, PhD (Coalition Manager) or David Smith, PhD (Founding Leader).

Project Summary

The STEM Valley Mentoring Coalition, located in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, aims to leverage existing STEM programs, such as the development of science fair projects and maker/tinkering programs, to draw on our significant and varied STEM workforce and to provide over 2,000 students with access to high-impact mentoring, both during the school day and after school.

The Moment It Came Together

Although the US2020 City Competition announcement provided a tipping point to move our Coalition to specific action, our coming together has been part of an ongoing process that makes it hard to pick a specific moment. Increasingly, over the past two decades, different local partnerships have emerged, some focused on overall youth development, like the Community Bike Works or Big Brothers Big Sisters, others focused on careers and workforce, like Skills USA or our Workforce Investment Board's Career Linking Academies. Recently, our United Way has come forward with a strong emphasis on the Collective Impact model, leading to a series of dialogs and learning events. At the same time, the Da Vinci Science Center became involved in youth mentoring through explosive growth in after-school science programming, especially through the 21st Century Community Learning grants, and through an IMLS Learning Lab partnership with the Allentown Public Library. All of these strands formed a felicitous macramé from which we could draw multiple strands together to create our Coalition.

Why We Decided to Participate

Our partners' motivations are diverse. Some partners are directly interested in STEM workforce development, as they are reliant on future STEM employees for their success. Other partners are more interested in combating the economic odds stacked against young people in the area, but all are united in the desire to educate and inspire youth in STEM.

The City of Allentown recognizes the opportunity for increased mentoring to enhance the lives of individual students and the overall economic health of the City of Allentown through greater access to high-paying STEM careers. We are excited to be part of the Guiding Coalition and we join all partners in recognizing that increasing access to mentoring is an important strategy for our region. As Mayor of our city, I recognize how important it is to have youth develop into productive citizens and I am encouraging corporations, non-profits and individual citizens to participate.”
- Ed Pawlowski, Mayor, City of Allentown

One of Our Key Strategies

We are working to engage mentors with a significant number of youth in the Lehigh Valley’s re-emerging urban cores by identifying natural partnerships that allow us to conduct specific and focused recruiting. We have identified many local opportunities for both content mentoring and career mentoring with programs that provide learning that is interest-based, peer-engaged, and connected to real world ideas. We connect these STEM programs, one-by-one, to sources of potential mentors through targeted recruiting. Through these efforts, we hope to identify which organizations can serve as natural partners to each other in long-term relationships that can sustain high-impact mentoring.

We are learning…

We want to establish cross-partnership connections that can make the most of limited resources and have positive effects on all of the partners, the ways that we work together, and the youth whom we serve. The core cities of the Lehigh Valley, Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton are rust-belt cities with a high percentage of youth living in poverty. We have learned through experience that these students are hungry for opportunities that link deeper learning to their own personal interests and connections, while offering them a pathway to employment and a brighter future. We have a large number of STEM programs and youth providers who function as natural outlets for STEM mentoring. Lehigh Valley downtown areas are all currently undergoing economic revitalization, with a corresponding surge in available mentors and demand for new graduates with STEM skills. The corporate environment can be a challenging one in which to recruit mentors, with increased demands on STEM workers’ time, but most companies provide at least some level of support for volunteers in the community. It is up to our Coalition to make sure that STEM mentors and opportunities are matched, and to encourage the corporate culture of volunteerism in our partners.

Looking Forward

Currently, we have four major programs that we are utilizing as high-impact mentoring opportunities. In conjunction with the Allentown YMCA, the Space for Playing on Technology (SPoT) program focuses on digital media and production, and is targeted toward middle school students in the Allentown Promise Neighborhood. In the Allentown and Bethlehem school districts, mentoring opportunities are available to help students participating in local and regional science fairs. Additionally, Pop-Up Maker programs are establishing maker and tinkering programs in twenty-nine 5th grade classrooms in all elementary schools located in the Allentown Neighborhood Improvement Zone. Lastly, we are establishing a Maker 2.0 program around wearable electronics at Broughal Middle School in Bethlehem. We plan to develop sustainable mentoring in each of these programs, while also eyeing expansion towards additional programming in Bethlehem and Easton to entice even more budding STEM enthusiasts in the area.

As we enter Year Two of our program, we continue to enjoy the support of the community, exemplified by the following statement:

Our Partners in Allentown