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New Curriculum Models for STEM Careers

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Intersector Project
August 14, 2015

In 2010, the unemployment rate in the United States was 9.6 percent, with almost 15 million people out of work. At the same time, however, companies like IBM and Siemens observed a lack of qualified candidates for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) positions. In 2011, for every one graduate in computer science, there were seven job openings.
Stanley Litow, IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship & corporate affairs and president of the IBM International Foundation, recognized the skills mismatch in the labor market for STEM-driven companies. He worked across sectors to realize a solution to that problem — the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a grades 9-14 school program designed to equip students with the qualifications needed to compete for high-growth jobs in information technology. P-TECH opened in 2011 through cross-sector collaboration with IBM, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and The City University of New York (CUNY). The school’s goal is to graduate students with a no-cost, associate degree in applied science and put them on track to enter jobs in the STEM field at companies like IBM. (Read The Intersector Project case study on P-TECH, “Preparing Students for STEM Jobs in NYC.”)

ptechimage - Intersector

While the DOE provides space, administration, resources and specialized knowledge of students’ needs to operate P-TECH, as well as pedagogical expertise in high school learning and curriculum, IBM and CUNY make unique, significant contributions. IBM provides input into P-TECH’s curriculum to ensure it aligns with industry-sought technical and workplace skills and enables P-TECH’s workplace learning strand, which includes mentorships, worksite visits, speakers and internships. CUNY steers curriculum and class sequence to align with college credit requirements and provides City Tech professors to teach college-level classes at P-TECH.

Tools for Collaborative Success

Establish a governance structure

A steering committee made up of individuals from DOE, CUNY, City Tech and IBM act as the experts and decision-makers charged with moving P-TEC’s vision forward. The Steering Committee met twice a month during the beginning phases of the program. It continues to meet monthly to guide P-TECH’s ongoing development.

Steering committee decisions and discussions are based on the work of planning committees, which develop recommendations and provide updates on specific areas of school functioning, such as course scope and sequence and workplace learning. Drawing on the research and recommendations provided by the planning committees, the steering committee engages in discussion and debate to arrive at consensus, with each partner contributing expertise. Principal Davis, working with partners, operationalizes the vision and decisions of the steering committee.

Share discretion

The steering and planning committees enable each sector to contribute its resources and expertise and to take responsibility for making aspects of the initiative a success. For example, IBM provides students with mentors and access to a substantial number of paid internships, while recruiting other companies to do the same. This ensures students receive needed workplace experience and are competitive candidates for STEM positions. CUNY provides expertise on college requirements and its professors provide STEM content instruction to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in college classes.

Build a common fact base

During the initial phase of the steering committee’s work, the Harvard University Graduate School of Education released “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st century.” This report provided data on expected growth in available middle-skill jobs that would require a college degree, offering an analysis of the changes in education needed to ensure preparation for future labor markets. This data helped the committee assess the facts of the problem and plan a solution.

Working with Litow’s team, IBM’s human resources department undertook an in-depth “skills mapping” to identify the entry-level jobs that required an associate degree in applied science, as well as the technical and workplace skills needed to fulfill the functions of those jobs. IBM then worked with high school and college faculty to map these skills to the curriculum to ensure that students would graduate with skills required for in-demand jobs.

P-TECH is now in its fifth year. More than half of P-TECH’s students have exceeded New York State high school graduation requirements in three years or less and 125 of the high school’s students were enrolled in at least one college class in 2013. On average, these students have already earned 12.6 college credits. About 75 percent of P-TECH’s first class is expected to begin skills-based, paid internships in the summer of 2014. Other partnerships seeking likewise to prepare students for jobs in the STEM fields have adopted the P-TECH model. Litow counts this replication as a major step forward; one that he hopes will lead to broader education policy reform.


Author: The Intersector Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cross-sector collaboration as a way to address society’s pressing issues. We work to provide practitioners in every sector with the tools they need to implement collaborative solutions to complex problems. 

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