PAST Foundation to lead Central Ohio OSLN Hub

For 20 years, the Columbus-based PAST Foundation has been working to improve education and “link learning to life.” The PAST Foundation (Partnering Anthropology with Science and Technology) offers educational programs for students and teachers and evaluates others’ programs to measure their impacts and outcomes.

In a new endeavor, the foundation has been chosen to lead the Central Ohio Hub of the Ohio STEM Learning Network. A STEM innovator at the foundation – and its “Queen of Queries” – Mary Schneider will take on the role of hub director. To find out more about PAST, what she does there and what she has planned for the hub, we contacted Schneider with a few questions:

Q: Tell us about your education/career background and how you came to the PAST Foundation.

mary schneider headshotA: I met the PAST Foundation when staff members came to South Dakota to put on a series of professional development opportunities surrounding STEM and Transdisciplinary Problem Based Learning (TPBL). I was in my 16th year of teaching, and the introduction to STEM and TPBL changed my approach in the classroom.

I am a graduate of South Dakota State University (Go, Jackrabbits!) with a BA in English, and a 2016 graduate of Dakota Wesleyan University with an MA in STEM education.

Q: Give us a general overview of the PAST Foundation and what you do there – especially your titles of “STEM Innovator” and “Queen of Queries.”

A: We are a 501(c)(3) charitable, nonprofit organization celebrating our 20th year of innovative educational practices. PAST has been a leader in designing STEM education across the nation, bringing problem-based learning to educators and experiential programs to students.

In 2015, we created the PAST Innovation Lab, an independently owned and operated R&D prototyping facility where students and educators can experience STEM education in lab facilities.

PAST faculty members are anthropologists, researchers and educators. We believe understanding complex societies – such as schools and communities – drives improvements in education. We look at education from a cultural standpoint as well as an academic one. STEM innovators look at what we have always done and help find those connections to STEM.

STEM is not the way that one does things but a way that one lives. It’s the necessity to look at the world and question the status quo. I am a questioner. I will almost always begin with a question rather than a statement. I am the first one to say that I do not know it all, and if we are to learn from those around us and innovate, we need to ask questions first.

Q: The PAST Foundation provides programs for students and teachers. Can you tell us a bit about your offerings?

professional development at PAST foundation

A: The easiest way to answer this is to send everyone to our webpage, We have professional development opportunities for educators, STEM activities and programs for learners, and STEM Streaming activities.

We are in a partnership with NASEF (North America Scholastic Esports Federation) to bring esports to Ohio through the Ohio Scholastic Esports Collaborative (see our post: “Esports growing in Ohio, panel discussion coming soon”). We are partnering with the Ohio STEM Learning Network as the Central Ohio STEM Hub, and we offer mentorship training for businesses and schools.

It seems as if the list is infinite, but it all centers around bringing STEM to the world.

Q: In your new role as director of the Central Ohio Hub of the Ohio STEM Learning Network, how do you plan to help support STEM educators and their students initially?

A: We want to expand the conversation in central Ohio so that schools and all things STEM have a support network. As I mentioned before, STEM isn’t something that one does but the way one lives. We want to encourage schools to look at what they are doing and recognize the STEM activities already within the existing curriculum and expand on that.

We will also be holding a STEM Educator Chat – an opportunity for educators to have an informal conversation about all things STEM.

learning event at past foundation

Q: What might be on your wish list in your new role with the hub? How will the PAST Foundation and its resources figure into the equation?

A: I want every teacher to realize that STEM is not solely science, technology, engineering and math. It is language. It is art. It is music. It is literature. STEM is what happens when we look at the world and try to discern what something is and how it got that way. STEM happens when a learner – regardless of age –sees the world with curiosity and wants to innovate, question and create, and have fun learning along the way.

We want to create a resource for those who might not be comfortable with STEM – yet – and be a resource for those who aspire to be in that STEM space.

Q: What advice would you give STEM educators during this challenging time of teaching during a pandemic? And, does the PAST Foundation have educational resources that can help with distance learning?

A: It’s a time of great change, especially in education. It’s a perfect time to try something that maybe somebody didn’t have an opportunity to do before. It might be a collaboration with another educator or an activity that one always wanted to try. Be willing to open the door to the change that is occurring.

The PAST Foundation pivoted in March and produced a series of webinars and expanded our STEM Streaming design challenge offerings for educators to use at STEM Streaming. Also available is our podcast series Learning Unboxed, a conversation about teaching, learning and the future of work. Learning Unboxed aims to talk about how we reimagine, rethink and redesign our global education system. We are also offering our student programs virtually.

students racing cars at past foundation

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