Working together

for change

Tough problems, like unfair access to STEM education and careers, can’t be solved unless people and groups act together. Progress also depends on bringing together many points of view.

We include and collaborate with people who are or used to be in prison to lead this work. They bring their expert knowledge, experience, creativity, and humanity to solving the system problems that prolong inequity.

We have set up three main types of groups to help with active community involvement. These groups enable STEM-OPS to achieve its vision.

All persons impacted by the carceral system are able, and encouraged, to pursue a culturally responsive and equitable high-quality STEM education and career.

Our affinity groups are made up of STEM-OPS founding members and partners. Over 60
organizations came together and formed eight groups. These groups discussed and
identified the main roadblocks to achieving the STEM-OPS vision; they also shaped our
shared action plan seen in the strategy map (shown below; click the image to enlarge). Many of them also joined in as part of the
system map groups and the working groups.

The Affinity Group

• Northeast

• Southeast

• Midwest

• West Coast

• Data and Measures

• Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline

• Formerly Incarcerated Women

• Re-Entry and Mentoring

STEM-OPS Strategy Map

STEM-OPS Strategy Map

Click on any Outcome Objectives to see the related strategies.

Shared Agenda: Outcome Objectives

Increase Opportunities to Engage in STEM Programming in Prison
Increase Opportunities to Engage in STEM Programming in Reentry
Normalize Technology Infrastructure in Prison Commensurate with On-Campus
Increase Successful Progression Through STEM Programming
Increase Access & Successful Transition to STEM-Involved Careers
Normalize Data Sharing & Asset-Focused Use of Data
Strategy Objectives:
Promote & Sustain Counternarratives about STEM
Center Work Around Voices & Leadership of Directly Impacted People
Build & Sustain Productive STEM Identities
Promote & Sustain Asset Perception of Directly Impacted People
Strengthen Instructors’ Knowledge & Use of Culturally Responsive & Trauma-Informed Pedagogy
Educate Corrections Agencies & Higher Education in Prison Programs about Importance of Building STEM-Inclusive Programming
Normalize High-Quality STEM Curricula & Resources Commensurate with On-Campus
Educate Directly Impacted People about Opportunities of STEM-Involved Careers & Pathways
Educate STEM Fields & Public Around Value of Hiring Directly Impacted People
Educate Corrections Agencies & Higher Education in Prison Programs about Importance of Building STEM-Inclusive Programming
Strengthen Relationships Between Corrections Agencies & Higher Education in Prison Programs
Reduce External Barriers to Entry to STEM Programs & Programming
Define Asset Measures & Research Methods

Reduce Barriers to Entry to STEM-Involved Careers


The system map below is represented by a “Causal Loop Diagram.” This diagram shows how different variables in a system are causally interrelated to create the behavior that leads a system to perpetuates itself. When we understand how variables in a system are interrelated, we can begin to develop strategies for changing the system, such as how to break bad cycles or how to positively influence a relationship or loop. Since the STEM-OPS diagram was created through CBSD, the diagram represents the input, discussion, and negotiation of a diverse set of stakeholders.

Our diagram shows two layers of cycles, or “feedback loops.” The main image shows the dominant feedback loops that shape the system. Each of the system variables (purple text) at this level has a subsystem beneath it, so if you double-click on a system variable, you will be taken to the subsystem diagram. These subsystems are not mutually exclusive, so you will see some information repeated under different system variables.


The following key will help you use the causal loop diagram.

  • The diagram consists of a set of words, arrows, and loop symbols.
  • The words are the system variables that impact the system.
  •  The arrows show the direction of the relationship between the variables.

Please note that when two things influence each other, this is represented by two different arrows to show a loop, not by using one arrow with two arrow heads.

  • The arrows have a “+” or a “–” sign on them. These signs tell you the type of relationship between variables.

The + sign indicates that a change in one variable (like an increase) will lead to the same change in the other variable (another increase).

The – sign indicates that a change in one variable (like an increase) will lead to the opposite change in the other variable (a decrease).

  •  Many of the arrows and words together form a full loop, or in our case, many loops. Each loop is designated by a “B” (balancing loop) or an “R” (reinforcing loop). If you hover over a loop symbol, the arrows and variables of the loop in question will be highlighted.

A balancing loop is one where the cycle represented usually is stable over time.

A reinforcing loop is often described as “virtuous” or “vicious” cycles where productive changes lead to more productive changes, while negative impacts lead to ever worsening cycles.

  • Please note that a causal loop diagram does not show everything that impacts a system. For example, the rules that govern a system or the goals of the system are not represented in the diagram itself.