Urban Advantage Denver


“I am so impressed by Urban Advantage: they have taken scientific discovery into our least affluent communities and engaged our most vulnerable students in love of learning through scientific exploration…Of particular note was the gender and racial diversity of the participants, which directly addresses the prevailing imbalances in STEM education and employment.”

– Gully Stanford, representing the Colorado Department of Higher Education

Program Type

Teacher Development/Training
Hands on/Project-Based
Informal /Out of School

Target Audience

All Students

English Language Learner

Low Socio-Economic Status

Teachers/Educational Leaders




Grades 6 - 8

 Accomplished link

Program Impact

UA Denver serves approximately 3,000 students and 24-30 teachers annually from Denver Public Schools middle schools. Findings from a comprehensive efficacy study show that the program creates a positive environment in which teachers can engage their students in STEM learning. UA Denver teachers devote 44% of class time to student-directed investigation experiences, compared to 19% for non-UA teachers—an increase of 25%. UA Denver students are significantly more likely than their non-UA peers to report an interest in pursuing science-related activities outside of school, demonstrating the program’s positive impact on student interest, engagement, and persistence in science.


Program Overview

Urban Advantage Denver (UA Denver) improves science literacy and reduces achievement gaps among middle school students by immersing them in scientific questions based on observable phenomena; connecting them with STEM professionals; building critical thinking and process skills; and fostering positive attitudes toward STEM fields.

In addition to multifaceted, hands-on educational opportunities for students both in and outside the classroom, UA Denver maximizes its impact by involving teachers and families—students’ support system. 

UA Denver comprises multiple integrated experiences throughout the academic year:

  • Professional development sessions throughout the year equip teachers with strategies to connect inquiry-based science teaching methods with district curricula, Colorado Academic Standards, and Next Generation Science Standards Engineering and Science Practices.
  • Students become invested in their own learning through facilitated activities and open-ended, student-driven scientific investigations around natural phenomena. Students visit the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Zoo, and Denver Botanic Gardens on field trips, and have opportunities to visit with their families on their own time.
  • Family events at the partner cultural institutions and within the community inform families and build confidence in supporting their child’s education

Free access to partner institutions (via field trips, bus allowances, and admission passes) encourages participants to use the institutions as learning resources

How To Get Involved

Support for UA Denver is welcome at any level. Contributions can underwrite the program and enhance current offerings that serve students, teachers, and their families.

Additionally, there are two volunteer opportunities for STEM professionals to engage with students and support their STEM learning. We welcome STEM professionals to volunteer at Future Fest, a career exploration event, each spring. We seek volunteers who can represent their company and the career opportunities in their field. We also welcome STEM professionals to the Science Celebration head each May. The focus of this event is the students' projects and learning. At this event, individual STEM professionals can engage with students around their projects, serve as role models and mentors for the day, and support the positive growth mindset of students. Mentors interact one-on-one with students to learn about the students’ science investigations, share their own journeys into science careers, and encourage the students to continue on their academic and career pathways into STEM fields. 

Funders and Partners

UA Denver is a partnership among three major science-based cultural institutions—Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Zoo, and Denver Botanic Gardens—and Denver Public Schools, one of the largest and most diverse districts in Colorado. The National Science Foundation previously supported this work with a five-year grant designed to study the efficacy of an informal-formal education collaboration to enhance teachers’ effectiveness in providing STEM education and assure all students the opportunity to learn STEM content and 21st century skills. The program currently receives leadership support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. 


Eric Godoy, Partnership Programs Coordinator


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Design Principles

The programs in this database clear a high bar. STEMworks reviewed each program against the Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy.

  • Accomplished
  • Developing
  • Undeveloped

Overarching Principles

  • Need

    Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need.

  • Evaluation

    Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress towards the compelling need identified.

  • Sustainability

    Ensure work is sustainable.

  • Replication and Scalability

    Demonstrate replicability and scalability.

  • Partnerships

    Create high impact partnerships

  • Capacity

    Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals.

STEM Principles

  • Challenging and Relevant Content

    Offer challenging and relevant STEM content for the target audience

  • STEM Practices

    Incorporate and encourage STEM practices.

  • Inspiration

    Inspire interest and engagement in STEM.

  • Under-Represented Groups

    Identify and address the needs of under-represented groups.