Association of Science and Technologies Centers

U.S. Federal Agencies Share Opportunities for Science Centers and Museums

On February 26, representatives from eight U.S. Federal agencies shared current programs and future opportunities in science engagement and STEM education for science centers, museums, zoos, aquariums, and other cultural institutions. ASTC convened this event to supplement Museums Advocacy Day, an annual event organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) that brought 375 museum professionals to collectively advocate for the field on Capitol Hill. Read this blog post for highlights of ASTC members’ participation in Museums Advocacy Day.

Our event, “Engaging the public in STEM: Connecting Federal agencies with the science center and museum community,” offered attendees the chance to build connections beyond the programs that have traditionally supported museums and to explore additional opportunities for partnerships. View the agenda.

In service to our commitment to championing public engagement with science (see our new Strategic Direction), ASTC is seeking to expand the breadth of partners—including Federal agencies—who value the informal STEM education and science engagement community. We therefore invited a range of Federal agencies, including those who have not traditionally supported science centers or for which that support has been focused on a specific program. The more traditional programs which support science centers were included in a briefing ASTC co-organized with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as part of preparation for Museums Advocacy Day attendees.

Sharing what we learned

In a series of blogs in the coming days, we’ll summarize what the agency representatives shared during their presentations, panel remarks, and audience questions. They will be long reads, but we think the information is valuable. This post kicks off the series and features a summary of remarks from Cindy Hasselbring, Assistant Director of STEM Education at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who provides an update on the Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan.

Updates on the Federal STEM Education 5-Year Strategic Plan 

Cindy Hasselbring, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

Cindy Hasselbring, Assistant Director of STEM Education at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), began her remarks with a few stories to illustrate her personal connections to science centers and museums. As a middle school student, she had a learning experience at the Cranbrook Institute in Michigan that has stuck with her all her life. As a teacher, she leaned on professional development resources from the Great Lakes Science Center, Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum, and Space Center Houston. For her, science centers and museums “understand how to engage the whole learner…[they] have the power to ignite the STEM fire in students, their parents, and the community.”

Charting A Course For Success: America’s Strategy For STEM Education, the Trump Administration’s five-year strategic plan for federal STEM education programs, released in December 2018, provides the 18 Federal agencies who support STEM education a roadmap for moving forward and a strategy for collaboration. A October 2019 progress report aligned Federal STEM programs to the three goals of the plan and announced five inter-agency working groups, who regularly meet to complete deliverables. A forthcoming progress report (expected Spring 2020), will align programs to the four “pathways” or cross-cutting set of approaches to improve STEM education: strategic partnerships, engaging students where disciplines converge, computational literacy, and inclusion in STEM.

Cindy highlighted a few areas that are top-of-mind for OSTP, and made some suggestions as to where science centers and museums might be able to provide support along the four pathways:

  1. OSTP would like to expand work-based learning for both students and teachers through strategic partnerships.
  2. Engaging students where disciplines converge is about solving complex, real world problems; science centers can support teachers by identifying compelling examples to engage youth in learning and STEM competitions.
  3. OSTP would like to see more computational literacy and an expansion of digital platforms in classrooms, and they are interested in better understanding how augmented and virtual reality can be used. When students can’t get to museums, distance learning may be an option.
  4. Finally, OSTP is hoping to scale evidence-based practices and be able to report participation rates.

In the near future, OSTP is considering hosting a public event to gather feedback on the implementation progress. The strategic plan was created with a great deal of stakeholder input, and our community will be included again. Outside of implementing the Federal STEM Strategic Plan, OSTP is looking to develop an online STEM resource that provides easier access to STEM education resources produced by Federal agencies. Again, our community’s perspective is valued, and ASTC will continue to engage with OSTP to solicit input from science centers and museums.

In other STEM-related news from the White House, President Trump recently signed two bills into law—the Building Blocks of STEM Act and Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act. The President also signaled a renewed emphasis on career and technical education by including $900 million in dedicated funds for the Department of Education in his FY 2021 budget request (see ASTC’s analysis here).

Next in the blog series

The event consisted of two panels: the first focused on education, and the second focused on public engagement more broadly. We’ve split the blogs accordingly:

Blog #2

  • Louie Lopez, Director, DoD STEM, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Jean Morrow, STEM Lead and Policy Advisor, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Department of Education (ED)
  • Monya Ruffin-Nash, Co-Lead, NSF INCLUDES Implementation Team and Program Director, Division for Research on Learning, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation (NSF)
  • Mike Kincaid, Associate Administrator for STEM Engagement, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Blog #3

  • Carrie McDougall, Senior Program Manager, Office of Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Nina Hsu, Health Science Policy Analyst, Office of Scientific Liaison, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and Science Committee Specialist to the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Rick Borchelt, Director, Office for Communications and Public Affairs, Office of Science, Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Jodi Williams, National Program Leader, Division of Food Safety, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Senior Advisor for Food Safety, Nutrition and Health, Office of the Chief Scientist, Department of Agriculture (USDA)

ASTC’s continued advocacy work

ASTC is working to deepen relationships with Federal agencies more generally, and we will be building on this event to advance conversations about public engagement in science and the opportunity for agencies to work with the science center and museum community. Our Communications and Advocacy Team will also be developing resources for our members that will help you to understand each agency’s mission, including highlighting potential opportunities for support.

We look forward to reporting out the results of those efforts! If you have ideas for the content and format of these resources, or stories to share about partnerships including collaborations with local Federal laboratories, please email me at mballard@astc.org.


We’re very grateful to our partner, the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University (ASU), for hosting the event at ASU’s Washington, DC offices. CSPO is collaborating with ASTC on our new Community Science Initiative.

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