ASSET Inc.: A Strong Science Education Today Means A Strong Workforce Tomorrow
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ASSET Inc.: A Strong Science Education Today Means A Strong Workforce Tomorrow

Bayer Corporation’s Making Science Make Sense program is a companywide initiative that advances science literacy across the United States through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education.

Paul Holmes

Bayer Corporation’s Making Science Make Sense program is a companywide initiative that advances science literacy across the United States through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education.  Some 22 Bayer sites around the country currently operate their own local Making Science Make Sense (MSMS) programs.  What makes MSMS unique is that rather than being created at the corporate level and mandated to the sites in a top-down fashion, each site works with local schools and other community partners to tailor programs that meet their area’s science education needs. 

In 1992 in Pittsburgh, Bayer spearheaded Allegheny Schools Science Education and Technology (ASSET) Inc. – a systemic science education reform initiative that brings Standards-based, quality hands-on science learning and teaching to local elementary schools.  Starting with five schools in two districts, today ASSET is used in 34 of Allegheny County’s 43 school districts, as well as 35 school districts in eight surrounding counties, reaching 2,500 teachers and 90,000 students.   

Critical to ASSET’s growth and success was Bayer’s early recognition that ASSET must become an independent organization that could attract widespread support, both locally and nationally.  Indeed, from the outset Bayer’s intention was to act as parent to ASSET: to help create it, nurture it through its growth and then set it free to become an independent, self-sustaining entity.  The way to do that, Bayer reasoned, was to help ASSET become a non-profit, 501©(3) corporation, which it did in 1993.  As a result, since 1995 ASSET has garnered two multi-million dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) grants which served as its annual operating budget for five years.

Now cut to the 2000-2001 school year and the good news/bad news scenario looming.  ASSET’s major funding from the NSF was set to conclude in May.  At the same time, the NSF-mandated five-year program evaluation screamed ASSET’s effectiveness – ASSET students were significantly outperforming their U.S. and international counterparts on the Third International Math and Science Study. 

In order to continue its important work, ASSET’s challenge was to find new, ongoing avenues of support not reliant on the National Science Foundation.

Objectives:

· Attract local school districts, corporations, organizations and individual benefactors to provide financial and human resources to help ASSET meet its $1.7 million annual budget and become self-sustaining
· Secure from these groups human resources in the form of ASSET volunteers
· Raise awareness of ASSET, its effectiveness in changing the way teachers teach and students learn science, and its potential impact on the southwest Pennsylvania region in years to come

Strategies

· Galvanize the local creative community to produce a public service and fundraising campaign pro-bono
· Design a multi-faceted, multi-media public service and fundraising campaign that highlights ASSET, its effectiveness and potential impact on the region
· Leverage the new evaluation findings to showcase to key audiences that ASSET is a program that works
· Utilize ASSET students, teachers and program leaders as spokespeople
· Produce marketing communications materials that outline the various ASSET sponsorship opportunities available to individuals, corporations and organizations
· Create a number of communications vehicles that promote ASSET’s messages and materials

Key Audiences

Local school districts; state and local government officials; state and local grant-making organizations, corporate foundations and individual benefactors; state and local news media; and, general public

Planning

In December 2000, ASSET, Bayer and Carway Communications developed a plan for the “ASSET Inc:  A Strong Science Education Today Means A Strong Workforce For Pennsylvania Tomorrow” public service and fundraising campaign.  On January 24, 2001, a meeting of creative agencies – Carway Communications, King Media Productions, Big Science Productions and H2 Design – was convened by Bayer to enlist their support in producing the various campaign components, including print and billboard advertising, television and radio spots, a sponsorship brochure and fundraising video.  The same day, the enthusiastic group finalized the campaign theme and components, and determined shoot dates and the production schedule.  On February 8-9, ASSET and Bayer reps auditioned 40 ASSET students for speaking roles in the television and radio spots; six students were chosen.  On February 13, the video and photo shoots were held at Tenth Street Elementary School with all 40 ASSET students. On March 13, the radio spot was recorded at Big Science Productions.   

Tactics:

A Strong Science Education Today Means A Strong Workforce For Pennsylvania Tomorrow Campaign – A multi-faceted, multi-media fundraising and public service campaign aimed at educating key audiences about ASSET’s effectiveness, and how area school districts, as well as local businesses, organizations and individuals can support ASSET in its transition to a self-sustaining non-profit organization.

ASSET Inc. Results Report – A report highlighting the positive findings of an NSF-mandated five-year program evaluation of ASSET and its impact on local science education.  The report gave ASSET the quantitative “track record” necessary to attract potential funders.

Op-Ed Piece –Bylined by ASSET Board Vice President Stan Herman, the piece laid the groundwork for the campaign by presenting ASSET’s case and alerting the community that ASSET would soon be looking for its help.

ASSET District Fee-Based Program – In a major shift that could be somewhat risky, local school districts were asked to pay for their ASSET programs and services – all of which were previously provided free-of-charge to the districts as part of the NSF funding that was due to expire in May 2001.

ASSET Works! Video – A five-minute testimonial video featuring ASSET students and teachers used to support the introduction of the fee-based program to existing ASSET school districts.

ASSET Sponsorship Packages – Various funding levels targeting corporations, organizations and individuals.

ASSET Brochure and Reply Card – A brochure that outlines ASSET’s history and success, the sponsorship packages and a reply card indicating a pledge of financial support and/or a request for more information.

ASSET Volunteer Brochure – A brochure outlining volunteer opportunities at ASSET. 

Spokespeople –ASSET executive director Reeny Davison, and ASSET students and teachers are the program’s public face.

Public Service Advertising (PSA) Campaign – A multi-media PSA campaign that consists of television, radio, print and billboard ads featuring ASSET students.

Media/Community Briefing – A breakfast briefing to launch the public service and fundraising campaign to the key audiences.

Press/Information Kit – Targeted to key audiences, the kit provides ASSET background information, copies of the results report and annual report, key components of the overall campaign and press releases.

Web Site – Designed for both the school districts served and the general public, the site features teacher professional development and curriculum information, the latest news on ASSET and its effectiveness in the classroom, and online versions of both the sponsorship and volunteer brochures.

Results:

On January 10, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the Herman opinion piece outlining ASSET’s successes and issuing a call to action for the community to support ASSET as its NSF funding ends.

On March 22, ASSET hosted a media/community breakfast briefing at the Duquesne Club to launch the “A Strong Science Education Today Means A Strong Workforce For Pennsylvania Tomorrow” public service and fundraising campaign, including:  a 30-second television ad, a 30-second radio spot, and print and billboard ads featuring a group of 40 ASSET students, and a fundraising brochure with reply card outlining sponsorship levels.

Speaking at the breakfast were Ms. Jane Downing, senior program officer, Pittsburgh Foundation, who announced a nearly $100,000 grant to ASSET over three years; Dr. Reeny Davison, executive director, ASSET, who unveiled the public service and fundraising campaign elements; Sharon Hess, ASSET resource teacher, who praised the program and why it’s so important for ASSET to survive; and, Mr. Bob King, vice president, Bayer Corporation and ASSET Board President who served as moderator.  Also at the breakfast were a group of ASSET students and their teachers, demonstrating different hands-on science classroom activities to the attendees.

More than 55 people attended the breakfast, including public affairs and foundation representatives from PPG Inc., AT&T, Adtranz, Principal’s Academy, University of Pittsburgh, Bayer Foundation, Buhl Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation and KDKA-TV.

Since April 2001, all four major network affiliates in Pittsburgh, i.e., KDKA-TV (CBS), WPXI-TV (NBC), WPGH-TV (FOX) and WTAE-TV (ABC), have been airing the 30-second television PSA.
Since April 2001, 17 area radio stations have been airing the 30-second radio PSA, including WURP-AM, WLSW-FM, WCCS-AM, WJPA-AM, WYEP-FM, WAEB-AM, WMBS-AM, WDAD-AM, KQV-AM, WJJJ-FM, WPTS-FM, WBUT-AM, WISR-AM, WPGR-AM, WAMO-FM, WJAS-AM, WPIT-AM.

In April 2001 and June 2001, two separate billboards went up on Bigelow Boulevard, a main traffic artery, for a three-to-four month period.  Lamar Advertising provided the space for a nominal fee.

Currently, ASSET is working with Kaufmanns Department Store to arrange for advertising space in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Media relations efforts generated stories in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Pittsburgh Business Times, Science Activities magazine, WPXI-TV (NBC) and KDKA-TV (CBS).

By June 2001, all of the 34 existing ASSET school districts signed contracts with ASSET for its services totaling more than $964,000. 

In addition to its annual $135,000 grant from Bayer, ASSET received $47,166 from the Pittsburgh Foundation; $100,000 from the Grable Foundation; $300,000 from the Heinz Endowment; $75,000 from the RK Mellon Foundation;  $50,000 from the Laurel Foundation;  $40,600 from the Buhl Foundation; $35,000 from PPG Inc.; and, more than $5,250 in individual and in-kind contributions.

The school districts’ commitment, plus the financial support from the above mentioned corporations and foundations allowed ASSET to exceed its fundraising goal by nearly $100,000 (i.e., $1.7 million annual budget versus $1.8 million raised).

The volunteer brochure was distributed to school districts’ PTAs, leading to more than 40 volunteers signing up to help out in ASSET’s materials distribution center to refurbishing science curriculum kits.

On October 19, 2001, ASSET threw a party to announce its successful transition to a self-sustaining non-profit organization.  The party, held at the PNC Park Home Plate Club, was a thank you to all supporters.

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