Building Philanthropy for a Better Florida

ENGAGE Module 5: STEMsmart

STEMsmart from Gulf Coast Community Foundation

Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s STEMsmart initiative is transforming the way teachers teach and students learn science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, in local secondary schools. While statistics show that many of the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs of tomorrow—and today, for that matter—will require proficiency in the STEM disciplines, our region, state and nation have fallen behind many developing economies in preparing our children for that future.

That’s why Gulf Coast has already invested $2.2 million just halfway through this five-year partnership with the Sarasota and Charlotte county school districts to jump-start student achievement in STEM.

Much more than an academic grant, STEMsmart is a movement designed to spark a new breed of critical thinker and creative problem-solver among students, both inside and beyond the classroom, within and beyond the core STEM subjects. A dedicated website,, helps to extend the initiative to the entire community.

STEMsmart launched in 2010 and is now active in 15 schools. Results so far include improved test scores in the bellwether subject of algebra, installation of 50 new high-tech science and math classrooms in Sarasota County middle schools, groundbreaking technology and training partnerships with global tech company Texas Instruments and reams of accolades for local students in regional and statewide competitions. Investments by the school districts, local and national businesses and individual donors bring the total invested so far to $4 million.

STEMsmart Goals:

  • Accelerate teachers’ readiness to meet Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in math and science.
  • Enhance opportunities for students that increase achievement and promote readiness for STEM-related postsecondary programs and careers.

STEMsmart Strategies:

Technology Enhancements

  • 58 classroom sets of TI-Nspire wireless handheld devices, which enable students and teachers to interact in real time using everyday examples to learn geometry, physics, and other subjects. Impacting 8,700 students at five local high schools and nine middle schools, this partnership with Texas Instruments makes STEMsmart the largest academic deployment of TI-Nspires in Florida. Venice High School Algebra I students achieved an unprecedented 100% end-of-course exam pass rate since this program began.
  • 50 STEMsmart “Classrooms of Tomorrow” have been installed throughout Sarasota County middle schools and are used by 8,000 students daily. The classrooms include touchscreen computers networked to teachers’ computers, digital probes and balances, and small-group configurations to foster collaborative problem-solving in math and science. The classrooms inspire teachers and students alike, with a level of engagement that is much higher because the classroom is finally smarter than their phones! The medium of learning is enhancing interest as well as the quality and speed of learning.

Teacher Training

  • More than 150 teachers have received training on ever-advancing STEMsmart techniques and tools, including inquiry-based learning, TI-Nspire handhelds, Math Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Science Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, and common lesson planning. An Educator Summit in January 2013 brought teachers together to share best practices and introduce nanotechnology, sustainability, and other emerging topics. Additionally, the BYOD or “Bring Your Own Device” issue was explored in preparation for the 2014-15 State of Florida mandate for e-textbooks.

New and Hands-on Learning Opportunities

  • STEM-related academies have launched within area high schools, including health sciences, technology, engineering, and more (hundreds of students participating)
  • Before- and after-school science and math clubs (nearly 1,000 students participating in 2012-13)
  • STEMsmart summer camps (257 students participated in seven camps in 2012; 277 students participated in eight camps in 2011)
  • STEMsmart Summit (more than 200 students participated in all-day summit in 2012; 500-plus are expected on two campuses in March 2013)
  • STEM electives at two middle schools: 
    • L.A. Ainger Middle School offers two full-time elective STEM classes impacting 750 students a year
    • Heron Creek Middle School offers two sections with 20 students each

Externships, Mentoring, and Job-shadowing

  • More than 75 STEMsmart business partners have registered to serve as a job-shadowing or internship host, STEM club mentor, or classroom speaker.
  • Several teachers have participated in externships at local STEM businesses to better connect classroom content with the criteria for a successful career in a STEM field.
  • Many students have completed internships at local employers such as Venice Regional Medical Center, Englewood Community Hospital, DMK Associates (engineering firm), and Janoff and Khatri Pediatric Dentistry.
  • Nearly $300,000 in scholarships awarded to graduating high school students pursuing STEM education.
Learn more about STEMsmart from Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

 STEMsmart is Changing the Equation

 STEMsmart transforms learning via a vision (Venice Gondolier, April 25, 2015)

 STEM Initiative - White Paper (July 2010)