At the beginning of this month, NYU hosted the first 2019 gathering of the Sport and STEM Alliance. The SSA was founded by Beyond Sport, a group working to use sports to promote positive social change, and brings sports-related organizations together to encourage the growth and adoption of education programs that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math education.
At NYU, a group of more than 30 individuals representing more than 20 different organizations convened to learn about the myriad of existing STEM platforms and programs. They shared best practices from past experience on helping increase learning opportunities for young people, and discussed what might be next at the intersection between the games we play and the things we teach.
Delegates at the SSA meeting included representatives from powerhouse brands such as the EPL’s Chelsea FC, TGR Foundation, the soon-to-be-launched Jackie Robinson Museum, and smaller, regional nonprofit organizations such as Play Like a Girl! from Nashville, Tenn., and I-Trifrom East Hampton, N.Y. I was there as director of the San Francisco 49ers museum and of the 49ers EDU STEM-education program.
Chelsea is a regular collaborator on STEM education projects with the 49ers. The NFL franchise has run events at the EPL team’s Stamford Bridge stadium in London, and Chelsea has done the same for Bay Area youth at Levi’s Stadium. Tiger Woods’s TGR Foundation dates back more than two decades, and aims to empower underprivileged children through education—85 percent of those it serves live at or below the poverty line. The Jackie Robinson Museum will open later this year, and aims to inspire students through the story of the player who broke the color barrier in MLB in 1947. And both Play Like a Girl! and I-Tri use sports and education to change the lives and career prospects of young girls.
“The SSA is a coming together of minds across a broad range of sectors to understand how sport can be used to advance STEM education and then taking action to make it happen. Our goal is to ignite passion in STEM education using sport and its global appeal, especially to young people, as a creative way to do so,” said Fred Turner, Beyond Sport’s director of content.
The alliance was founded at the end of Beyond Sport’s Beyond Innovation conference in 2017. Beyond Innovation is dedicated to exploring how sports can be leveraged as a tool to improve, empower, and create new approaches to STEM education. At the end of that inaugural event in 2017, the 49ers Foundation, Chevron, Verizon, and another 40 members who shared Beyond Sport’s vision, joined forces to launch the SSA.
“If you think about it, STEM is a huge component of sports—everything from the equipment, to the strategies used to develop plays, to the ever-advancing technology in stadiums and in living rooms,” Turner said. “It’s a natural platform to advance our mission. As we work and learn together, we truly believe the alliance can positively benefit now and future generations.”
One of the attendees at the SSA meeting at NYU on Apr. 2 was Briana Thevenin, program director of the Victor Cruz Foundation. Founded by retired NFL wide receiver Victor Cruz, who won Super Bowl XLVI with the Giants in February 2012, the foundation focuses specifically on STEM education, aiming to increase the numbers of students from underrepresented minorities seeking careers in STEM fields.
“We are here because it’s important to discuss and work with like-minded individuals and organizations who are looking to push the needle in engaging our youth,” Thevenin said. “I’m part of a nonprofit that is focusing on providing our youth and kids opportunities in STEM education. Given that, it’s important to not only work alongside other groups doing what we do, we have to collaborate. Our work is going to be larger and more impactful if we do.”
Janine Koeneke, TGR Foundation’s VP of donor partnerships, was also present at NYU, and underscored the importance of being part of the group.
“When Tiger transitioned from being a college to a professional athlete, one of his first actions was to start TGR Foundation with his father, Earl Woods, to provide educational opportunities for under-resourced students. [Tiger’s mother, Tida, also co-founded the organization.] In 2001, our focus switched to STEM education,” Koeneke said. “An alliance that focuses on the intersection of sports and STEM is an organization that we need to be a part of.”
TGR Foundation and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation are planning to host the 2019 edition of the Beyond Innovation conference in Los Angeles on Nov. 14 and 15. Beyond Sport estimates that event, its third annual conference, could draw as many as 400 delegates from around the world. The work of the SSA is likely to take center stage.
Jesse Lovejoy is the Director of 49ers EDU and the 49ers Museum. He’s also Managing Partner of EDU Academy, which was created to help organizations understand how to harness the power of sport to introduce STEAM education programming. In his free time, he hangs out with his wife Stephanie, daughter Vivienne, and their two rescue dogs, Buster and Lucy, and nerds out on different ways to inspire young learners.