STEM Pillars: Community-based research

A child is using littleBits, with a fan, LED, and battery to create a circuit and invent during the engineering workshop.

A family is engaged in inventing during the engineering workshop at a public library.

STEM Pillars is investigating hands-on inquiry-based workshops for families with elementary-aged children (aged 6 to 10 years old) that reflect science important to rural communities.  The team is studying these workshops in order to develop a project-based workshop model for rural families usable in other small museums and rural libraries.  The workshops are led by STEM professionals that were carefully chosen as scientists and engineers that are comfortable with children and whose work matters to families in their local community. The STEM professionals assist in the development of programs that reflect their personal stories of interest and involvement in STEM pursuits to create narrative-based family programs. The topics include astronomy, engineering, meteorology, plants, pollinators, and water quality. 

Are you a library or museum interested in STEM Pillars approach?  The STEM Pillars curricula, meant to be taught by community scientists to family audiences, are now available for download!

A child and parent have created an invention with circuits and feathers.

A family created a feathered invention a library engineering program.

The metaphor driving STEM Pillars is to identify people now serving as pillars of the community to make them STEM Pillars of the community, in relation to their STEM businesses and research. The goal of STEM Pillars is to enhance not just the STEM outcomes for the involved families but also to foster positive STEM outcomes and interests across rural communities.

STEM Pillars is a partnership between Penn State College of Education (lead), Schlow Library, Centre County Libraries (Centre Hall, Centre County, and Holt libraries), Huntingdon County Library, Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, and STEM experts from Penn State University, local businesses, and two county conservation agencies.

The research and design team members include Heather Zimmerman, Michele Crowl, Lucy McClain, Sue Kim, Zach McKinley, Emily Daigle, Katie Grills, Yu-Chen Chui, and Susan Land.

Interested in attending a program?  STEM Pillars family programs are occurring in rural public libraries and small museums in Centre, Blair, and Huntingdon counties through Fall 2019.


This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. STEM Pillars is part of the STEM Expert Facilitation of Family Learning in Libraries and Museums (STEMeX) program.