Maricopa’s STEAM and Sustainability Initiative: Using the 6P Framework

Pushpa Ramakrishna, Debbie Baker, and Karen Docherty
Innovation Showcase

According to a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (Skorton & Bear, 2018), "educational programs that mutually integrate learning experiences in the humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM) lead to improved educational and career outcomes” (p. 2). With a focus on such outcomes, it's time for community colleges to thoughtfully and intentionally weave the sciences, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) into students' learning experiences. An integrated STEAM curriculum fosters key skills which employers indicate are essential for college graduates, including critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork, and the application of learning to real-world settings (Finley, 2021).

The Maricopa Community Colleges, like many institutions of higher education across the U.S., have adopted the guided pathways model, which focuses students on a career pathway early in their college experience and emphasizes career relevance throughout the courses within that pathway. As part of that effort, we established the STEAM and Sustainability Initiative to assess existing and consider future learner-centered STEAM- and sustainability-related programs that prepare students to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace.

The STEAM and Sustainability Initiative launched in 2022 under the direction of Dr. Pushpa Ramakrishna with the goal of emphasizing equitable and inclusive teaching practices. In collaboration with district leadership, Ramakrishna developed a model to further define the scope of this cross-disciplinary initiative, interweaving projects, practice, professional development, pedagogy, people, and partnerships. The 6P model provides a framework through which we support work at and across the 10 colleges within the Maricopa district. Using this holistic approach, we are able to provide more intentional support to developing, growing, and sustaining STEAM teaching and learning. This is a systemwide initiative, with administrative and faculty leadership at the district level and from each of the colleges, that fosters communication, collaboration, and partnerships.

The 6 Ps: projects, practice, professional development, pedagogy, people, and partnerships

The 6P Model

The first P in the 6P model is for projects. The STEAM and Sustainability Initiative brings together faculty that are passionate about sustainability in an effort to revitalize impactful sustainability education using frameworks like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG). For one of our first projects, we selected six STEAM and Sustainability faculty fellows from diverse disciplines—sustainability, theater, biology, elementary education, and communication—to develop an open-licensed interdisciplinary module and assignment on UN SDG #6, Clean Water and Sanitation. As part of the initiative, Maricopa faculty are also working on a project that creates an inclusive, culturally relevant curriculum for gatekeeper freshman chemistry courses.

The second P is for professional development. The STEAMing Sustainability webinar series provides opportunities for faculty, staff, and administrators to engage in meaningful and collaborative conversations about practices and teaching strategies in STEAM that positively impact student retention, persistence, and success. The series has featured prominent thought leaders, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Lee Hartwell, who presented “STEAM Education 2022”; Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College data science expert Dr. Talitha Washington, who presented “Black Revolution in Applying Data Science to Solve Societal Issues”; and Dr. Sian Proctor, who presented “Creating a Just, Equitable, Diverse, and Inclusive (JEDI) Space on Earth and Beyond.”

The third P is for pedagogy. Maricopa’s STEAM and Sustainability Initiative provides professional development activities to implement in high-impact pedagogical practices and teaching strategies, including experiential learning, collaborative activities, active learning, service learning, and undergraduate research experiences. Faculty explore ways to stack high-impact practices by using multiple strategies to maximize the impact on student learning. For instance, a workshop we organized in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Labs and the InnovATE Biology Center focused on a cutting-edge DNA barcoding undergraduate research experience that some of the Maricopa Community Colleges are planning to implement.

STEAM and Sustainability Initiative professional development activity, June 2023

The fourth P is for practice. The initiative provides communities of practice (CoP) in STEAM and antiracist teaching and learning; faculty, staff, and administrators engage in in-depth discussions about STEAM and antiracist teaching and learning that positively affect student success. For example, faculty have opportunities to present journal articles and share best practices of culturally relevant pedagogical practices that are critical to close the gap in STEAM education and careers. According to the National Science Board (NSB; 2020), although the number of individuals from underrepresented groups joining the science and engineering (S&E) workforce has grown in recent years, “much faster increases will be needed . . . to be representative of the U.S. population in 2030” (p. 17). Specifically, “the NSB estimates that the number of women must nearly double, Black or African Americans must more than double, and Hispanic or Latinos must triple the number that are in the 2020 U.S. S&E workforce” (p. 17).

The fifth P is for people. Synergy among faculty and administrators from the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges is key to sustaining the ongoing effort. The STEAM and Sustainability Steering Committee, CoP groups, and professional development opportunities provide ongoing support and conversation for faculty from around the district.

The sixth P is for partnerships. Partnerships create avenues for faculty to build bridges with university partners, such as Arizona State University, and professional societies, such as the Global Council for Science and the Environment and the Council for Undergraduate Research, to promote STEAM and sustainability education and create a CoP of change makers.

The Maricopa STEAM and Sustainability Initiative is ready to grow, and the 6P framework will continue to guide its work in the years ahead. Plans include a focus on people and partnerships, such as working with faculty to integrate the design principles and high-impact practices into the district’s guided pathway model, collaborating with workforce partners to identify key needs, connecting with library faculty to incorporate information literacy principles into the STEAM curriculum, and cooperating with Institutional Research to identify data that will be useful in understanding trends and impacts of STEAM initiatives on student success.


Finley, A. (2021). How colleges contribute to workforce success: Employer views on what matters most. American Association of Colleges and Universities.

National Science Board. (2020). Vision 2030 (Report #: NSB-2020-15). National Science Foundation.

Skorton, D., & Bear, A. (Eds.). (2018). The Integration of the humanities and arts with sciences, engineering, and medicine in higher education: Branches from the same tree. The National Academies Press.

Lead image: STEAM and Sustainability Initiative DNA barcoding course-based undergraduate research experiences workshop, June 2023.

Pushpa Ramakrishna is Director, STEAM and Sustainability Initiatives, and Professor, Biology, and Debbie Baker is Instructional Designer, Maricopa Center for Learning and Innovation, and Coordinator, Open Maricopa, at the Maricopa Community Colleges District Office in Tempe, Arizona. Karen Docherty is Faculty Co-Chair, Library Services, at Rio Salado College (an MCCCD college) in Tempe, Arizona.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.