[IQP] Fundesteam STEM Curriculum Development

Sponsor: Fundesteam
Student Team: Jagruthi Maroju
Orlando Pinel Aviles
Christian Schrader
Simone Williams
Abstract: Panama’s economic success is endangered by economic disparity and an outdated education system. The goal of this project was to improve accessibility to funding opportunities for Fundesteam as well as help the organization increase its marketability so that it can continue to expand their efforts of combating poverty with STEAM education. In order help Fundesteam better report to stakeholders and grantors in order to receive funding, our team created a funding database and updated its website.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

Panama has an excellent economy thanks to the Panama Canal. The country’s economic prosperity was brought in by the inflow of wealthy immigrants, the trading power from the canal, and from a strong, banking economy. Although there is much economic success within Panama, its economic growth is endangered by economic disparity and an outdated education system.

Most of the money that enters Panama is condensed in the capital, Panama City, perpetuating a cycle in which those who live in outer cities and provinces are often marginalized and remain in less favorable economic conditions, while those in the capital live more prosperously. This financial divide contributes to the unbalanced distribution of wealth.

In the past few decades, technology has advanced rapidly, creating many new opportunities in STEAM. With its many international businesses, Panama needs professionals within STEAM in order to sustain and grow its economic success. However, Panamanian students are not being prepared for the future of STEAM. This is primarily due to Panama’s public and private school system being very divided. Private schools have extreme prestige and offer a better level of education and facilities in comparison to public schools, which experience high dropout rates and teach an outdated education curriculum that places a heavy emphasis on humanities. The absence of STEAM education in modern day curricula creates an obstacle for Panamanians who cannot afford private school as they are faced with a barrier in any attempt to enter new STEAM careers. Aside from the sheer disparity with resources, the physical distance from outer provinces to Panama City provides further difficulty in accessing STEAM education.

The issues of economic disparity and a lackluster education system have led to the creation of Fundesteam, our sponsor, who seeks to improve STEAM education across Panama and spread opportunities to children from lower income backgrounds. Fundesteam is a nongovernmental, non-profit organization based in Panama City whose main mission is to combat poverty in Panama through STEAM education. Unfortunately, one of Fundesteam’s major obstacles is obtaining funding to expand and continue operating these programs. In order to reach their project goal of 800,000 children, our main project goal was to improve accessibility to funding opportunities for Fundesteam as well as help the organization market itself better.

We achieved this goal through three main objectives: creating a funding database, conducting a general survey, and upgrading the current website. Prior to the team’s arrival to Panama City, 3M conducted a two weeklong organizational analysis of Fundesteam. At the end of the two weeks, 3M provided Fundesteam with a study and presentation of their observations of the organization as well as recommendations for further success. Our team used 3M’s study to structure our work and guide us in accomplishing the project goal and objectives.

For the funding database, Fundesteam gave us a clear idea of the type of database they required and the information they wanted to include within it. We created the most informative and concise one for their purpose. All potential opportunities were compiled in an Excel sheet. With 3M’s analysis, they provided Fundesteam with an excel sheet that contained a list of 66 potential donors for the organization. Our team utilized this existing sheet by creating sub sheets within the document listing “Donors”, “Grants”, and “Possible Partnerships”. Each sheet was enhanced with more opportunities that were found on Pivot and Foundation Directory Online. Each sheet contains columns that lists the grantor, donor or partner, a link to the grantor’s, donor’s, or partner’s website with more information, a synopsis of each entry, and all necessary contact information. All grant opportunities have an additional column that lists any special requirements Fundesteam must meet or do before applying for the opportunity. The final database contained information for 42 donors, 28 grant opportunities, and 14 possible partnerships.

In order to understand and present the work Fundesteam has done and its importance, our team administered written surveys to current Fundesteam students to understand the work Fundesteam has done so far and the impact they have made. These survey responses were incorporated into their website to further improve their marketability through emphasizing their mission. The initial plan to survey World Robotics Olympiad (WRO) participants and trained Fundesteam teachers in addition to the students who attend programs at Fundesteam proved not to be possible. Since Fundesteam has trained teachers at over 50 schools all over Panama, contacting and communicating each school would have been extremely difficult. We could not survey WRO participants because Fundesteam did not have any contact information for the teams.

Our final survey was given to students between ages 10 and 17 who attended day and after school programs at Fundesteam. We received 13 responses from the survey and all respondents were between the ages of 10 and 15. Of the 13 responses, only two provided any meaningful responses that could be potentially used on the website.

For quantitative student data, the team received access to results from a past survey conducted by the Pan American Development Fund (PADF), which was taken by 1616 students in 6th through 12th grade who attend schools that Fundesteam worked with. The survey was developed by a team of researchers at North Carolina State University to act as a tool for measuring student attitudes towards STEM. The survey contained four sections: Mathematics, Science, Technology, and 21st century skills. Students marked whether they were in total agreement, agreement, neither disagreement nor agreement, disagreement, or total disagreement of the statement provided. The team quantitatively analyzed this data by computing mean composite scores for the math, science, and technology sections. Fundesteam students displayed the most confidence on the statements in the technology section, which could be attributed to their focus on robotics and engineering.

Fundesteam’s website required various improvements in order to portray Fundesteam in a desirable manner to potential donors as well as attract many new visitors that can expand their outreach and further enhance the importance of their message. Their website could contain more written content in addition to better graphics that illustrate the organization’s mission and vision of changing the poverty equation in Panama with STEAM education. Although the website contained some information about their work and who they are, there was little information about the impact they have and are trying to make, which is only communicated in their mission statement and vision.

Fundesteam’s website had issues with proper display of their organization’s methods, scale and overall success of the robotics curriculums they were implementing. The website alsohad an overuse of generic content, the color scheme didn’t match the organization’s logo, the font used on the website was inconsistent, and the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) was unnecessarily long and caused loading issues for the website.

To address these issues, our team made many basic fixes to the CSS by removing unnecessary code, changing colors, and making the styling consistent. To solve the content issues, any content that did not address anything meaningful was removed or replaced with information specific to Fundesteam, which was given by the sponsor. This included swapping out most of the stock images with photos taken at events or partner schools participating in STEAM activities organized by Fundesteam. Sections detailing quantitative data from the PADF survey and testimonials from the team’s survey were also added to provide evidence for the effectiveness of the program. Additionally, links to media about Fundesteam, such as journal articles and videos were placed in the website as well. Each of these components contributed to improving the appearance of Fundesteam to donors as having a clear goal and record of success are vital.

Lastly, our sponsor asked our team to produce a contact list of websites in Panama with the heaviest web traffic, some websites of interest our sponsor, and a few online blogs related to tech and education. This was with the purpose of launching a small-scale marketing campaign aiming to spread and increase awareness of Fundesteam, as well as STEAM, among their target audience.

Final Recommendations

Based on the recommendations provided to Fundesteam by 3M and our team’s observations while working with Fundesteam, mainly Marvin Castillo, the organization’s CEO, we generated some recommendations that would help Fundesteam beyond the work we were able to accomplish during our time in Panama. Funding STEAM curriculum development goes beyond updating a website and applying to funding opportunities.

First, we recommend that Fundesteam clearly define roles within the organization. Defined, structured roles would mainstream Fundesteam operations, improve the organization and improve interactions between employees. Work distribution could be evenly distributed and Fundesteam’s reach would increase significantly.

Second, we recommend that Fundesteam have better reporting to stakeholders. In order to find and maintain a pool of regular donors, Fundesteam would be required to report to them regularly and update the donors on their actions and results. This recommendation ties into our previous recommendation since this would mean a staff member should be tasked with record keeping, and delivery and presentation of data.

Third, Fundesteam should align the organization with the Ministry of Education in Panama. Both organizations share similar missions and passion to achieve their visions, which should be enough to encourage cooperation. Alignment to the Ministry of Education would give Fundesteam a bigger and better platform to find support of any kind.

Fourth, Fundesteam needs to increase and improve their social media presence. Producing content highlighting the effects of STEAM around the world and showcasing similar successful projects around the world could allow Fundesteam to establish its relevance both with average users as well as stakeholders. It would allow them to maintain their relevance in the focus of its intended audience while also making it easier for them to gain attention, which could result in a momentum that could introduce them to more investors and supporters.

Fifth, Fundesteam should clarify their relationship to PanamaSTEM. Fundesteam has a dependent relationship between PanamaSTEM. The informal relationship between the two organizations is hurting Fundesteam by encouraging their lack of clear structure, making the organization fully dependent on PanamaSTEM, keeping Fundesteam from developing a clear identity.

Lastly, we recommend that Fundesteam offer connections to after school or internship programs to their high school participants. If Fundesteam wants to make sure that children have the necessary resources to achieve their goals within STEAM, then they should provide counselling and aid to children that want to attend college. Connecting them to internships, summer camps and proper guidance can be a definitive factor that ensures their attendance to college.

Ultimately, all objectives of the project were met and thus the goal of the project was achieved. The general survey, while proving to not be as helpful as we initially hoped, provided two quotes that Fundesteam could use on their website. The funding database proved to be much easier to tackle than anticipated because 3M provided Fundesteam with a starting ground, an Excel sheet of 66 potential donors, where they could further build and add funding opportunities easily. Although updating the website proved to be the most difficult task of the entire project, an improved website was developed. The main deliverables our team formulated for Fundesteam at the end of our time in Panama were a funding database and an upgraded website, as well as a secondary deliverable being the list of high trafficking websites in Panama and online blogs related to STEAM.