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Heinrich Works To Expand Afterschool STEM Programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) cosponsored a bill to expand engagement in afterschool programs focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and encourage New Mexico students to pursue STEM careers. The bill, S. 2543, the Supporting Afterschool STEM Act, would help provide resources to support afterschool and STEM programs by strengthening state, local, and community partnerships.

"It has become increasingly important to engage students in STEM education. This proposal strengthens collaboration between our schools and the community to ensure New Mexico students are getting the skills they need to compete for quality jobs, and helps connect students with mentors working in STEM fields," said Sen. Heinrich. "STEM education plays a critical role in America's ability to meet the demands of the 21st Century, like developing new energy technology, advancing national defense strategies, and raising health care quality through computerized advancements. I will continue to ensure STEM programs remain a top priority so our students have the tools they need to succeed in a global economy."

The Supporting Afterschool STEM Act makes available critical funding for afterschool and STEM networks to provide assistance in starting afterschool STEM programs, developing quality standards and furnishing professional development for afterschool educators. The bill also encourages mentorship between students and federal STEM research grantees, and provides hand-on learning and exposure to STEM research facilities for young people. Studies show that investing in STEM focused afterschool programs can improve student perceptions about STEM fields and careers, increase STEM proficiencies, and trigger a higher likelihood of a student pursuing a STEM career.

The proposal seeks to expand and replicate afterschool programs that connect communities to schools and STEM fields, such as Project GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) in Santa Fe. Project GUTS is a summer and afterschool STEM program, hosted by the Santa Fe Institute, for middle school students who use computer simulations to solve real-world scenarios facing their community.

"Afterschool programs engage and retain large numbers of students from diverse populations," said Irene Lee, director of the Institute's Learning Lab. "Often in an afterschool setting students have longer periods of time to master skills and learn new technologies."

The Supporting Afterschool STEM Act would authorize the National Science Foundation to award grants for three years to existing afterschool or STEM networks, with 20 percent of all funding reserved to develop new afterschool or STEM networks in states or regions where they do not exist.

The Supporting Afterschool STEM Act was introduced by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).