Announcing the 2020 Bridge Builder Award: Vera Vander Kooy and The Stem Connection
Congratulations to The STEM Connection and its founder, Vera Vander Kooy, the 2020 TechPoint Foundation for Youth (TPF4Y) Bridge Builder Award winner.
The Bridge Builder Award recognizes visionary leaders who are helping underserved student populations in Indiana gain access to experiential learning opportunities that inspire the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
Vera, who founded The STEM Connection in 2014, respectfully insisted that she couldn’t accept the honor on her own because, she said, the organization’s success belongs to everyone who’s helped her along the way.
“We’ve been blessed to have met and nurtured thousands of bright, young people,” Vera said. “They’ve opened our eyes, charmed us and impressed us with their intelligence and their dreams. They are the ones who are truly building bridges for a brighter tomorrow for themselves, and for everyone around them.”
Her vision was to encourage diversity, inclusion and equity in STEM. In its first year, the program served about 100 participants. In the past five years 17,500 participants have taken part in offerings ranging from virtual STEM Quick Wins, day camps, field trips, professional development opportunities, family events, STEM Future Leaders and community engagements.
One of the most popular events is a “Girls Only” camp where students work together on science experiments, discovering nature in the creek, prairie and woods, and presenting their projects to parents and siblings at the end of the week. These programs are kept accessible to all children through reduced rates and financial aid.
The STEM Future Leader program aims to increase STEM literacy and use of STEM practices in adolescents by providing leadership opportunities to cultivate interest in STEM careers, while also eliminating the stereotypes associated with STEM. Currently, 25 middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students are part of the mentoring program that began in 2016.
The STEM Connection was one of about 10 nominations for the 2020 Bridge Builder Award.
“It’s always a difficult choice for this award because there are so many wonderful programs out there addressing STEM accessibility, but Vera and The STEM Connection stood out as tireless advocates for quality, equitable STEM education for all students,” said Steve Ehrlich, the Foundation’s interim president and CEO. “Their range of programming is impressive, but they don’t stop there. They’re always working to inform educators on best practices in STEM education, which increases their positive effect throughout the state.”
TPF4Y is supported by several large donors, but also relies on the annual Mira Awards gala fundraising campaign drive to support its programming. Those wanting to donate to enable the Foundation to continue its important work can text “STEM” to 55433 or visit https://www.techpointyouth.org?form=MIRA2020
Prior Bridge Builder Award winners include:
2019 – Stephen J. Dutton
2018 – Jeffrey C. Musgrove, Jr.
2017 – Mark Hill
2016 – Rick Crosslin
2015 – Mayor Gregory A. Ballard
2014 – Robert Kizer
2013 – Tarik & Maya Glenn
2012 – Todd Whitlock
2011 – Don Kent
2010 – Dorothy Crenshaw
2009 – Bill White
2008 – Senator David Ford
2007 – Daniel Kent
2006 – Stefan Anderson
2005 – Frances McCollum
2004 – Community TechLink
2003 – Michael Weisbard
2002 – Rusty Johnson