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#STEMSpotlight: ELSO, Inc.

Elso Inc.

What’s the name of your organization?
ELSO, Incorporated

What’s your name and title?
Erin Cathcart – Project Manager

In which city (or cities) is your organization located?
Portland, Oregon

What are the ages and demographics of youth you work with?
ELSO, Inc.’s foundational program is Wayfinders Day Camp, a STEAM and nature-based field experience for Black and Brown youth in kindergarten through 8th grade. Hosting over 170 youth each summer, 90% of Wayfinders participants are Black and Brown.  In 2019, ELSO launched Tappin’ Roots: Black Nature Educators Internship in partnership with BEAM Village, The Blueprint Foundation, and Friends of Tryon Creek, offering culturally-specific leadership and learning opportunities for 15-20 Black identified youth aged 14 to 18 each year.  Our after-school design cohorts, Your Street Your Voice and EmpowHER, engage 175 BIPOC and LBGTQ+ youth aged 14 to 21 annually and were developed to empower participants to use design as a tool for racial justice.

Describe your organization and its mission.
Created in 2015 by Women of Color, ELSO, Inc. provides culturally relevant education and leadership development opportunities that invite Youth of Color to Experience Life Science Outdoors (ELSO). Our mission is to teach and frame science and nature-based education through a lens that centers and elevates the stories, ways of knowing, individual needs, and lived experiences of Black and Brown communities. 

What are the short and long-term goals for your organization?
In 2021, we launched #LabLyfe, ELSO’s very first subscription box filled with STEAMED learning activities for the culture! #LabLyfe teaches Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math, the Environment, and Design – the ELSO way.  In the coming months, look out for #LabLyfe boxes online and in science and nature-based retail outlets across Oregon.  Revenue from #LabLyfe and other sources will support ELSO in our long-term goals to establish a permanent home for our offices and youth programs, as well as expansion into new areas beyond the Portland-Metro region.

How can TAO and community members support your work?
ELSO relies on the support of donors and volunteers of all kinds!  Consider setting up a recurring monthly gift to ELSO, or visit our website at www.elsoinc.org/beapartofelso for information about volunteer opportunities and other ways to support us in our work!  We are especially interested in connecting with BIPOC professionals in tech fields as we develop our STEAMED lesson plans for summer 2022!


This blog post is part of an awareness campaign about organizations working to advance STEM education opportunities for Oregon youth. A big thank you to Oregon Community Foundation for supporting STEM education!

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