The award focuses on programs that use the environment as a pathway to STEM learning. The UL Innovative Education Award values all parts of E-STEM, but there are several important priorities that reflect the vision of the award.


Studying and helping the environment and the world around us is a proven strategy to engage students in learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). This approach, commonly known as E-STEM, is critical for developing solutions to complex modern problems and lies at the heart of the UL Innovative Education Award.


While programs must address the environment, environment in the context of the UL Innovative Education Award is defined broadly, including urban, suburban, and rural areas, as well as built spaces (such as buildings, workplaces, schools, campuses, etc.). Programs should delve into the relationships between the environment and local communities. When thinking of environment, we encourage applicants to look beyond habitat or species conservation.


UL is a safety science company that specializes in testing and innovating solutions for broad use throughout the world. All parts of STEM inquiry are important to us.

In particular, the award champions engineering and design solutions. Engineering is prioritized on account of its focus on and applications towards testing and solutions to environmental problems. We believe an engineering mindset is critical in addressing real world problems, where youth study an environmental issue, devise and assess potential approaches to solving the issue, and implement an effective solution. When thinking of engineering, we encourage both applicants and judges to be inclusive of engineering approaches and materials. Engineering is not always bridges and robotics; it can include rain collection devices or clean air tools. The award equally values all types of engineering.

Many programs already use engineering principles in their approach without reflecting on them. We encourage interested applicants to consider how engineering thinking already is at work in their programs in connection with science, technology, and math.

The National Research Council (NRC) and the Next Generation Science Standards identify eight practices of science and engineering as "essential for all students to learn."

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
2. Developing and using models
3. Planning and carrying out investigations
4. Analyzing and interpreting data
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
7. Engaging in argument from evidence
8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information*

*From Next Generation Science Standards For States, By States


The award prioritizes innovation on two levels: youth engagement and environmental solutions. First, we ask judges to consider the degree of novelty programs incorporate into learning systems. Innovative learning systems often depart from practices and outcomes found in traditional classroom and extracurricular education. Second, we also ask judges to consider the novelty of environmental solutions promoted by the program. These innovative solutions may employ new technology or interventions in addressing actual environmental issues. Across all types of innovation, we encourage judges to remember that new or advanced technology does not necessarily entail innovation.

Judges may also consider how to assess quality and innovation. New and innovative practices may not always be fully tested or widely implemented, so we ask judges to look for indicators of quality and effectiveness. On the other hand, tried and true program approaches may not be innovative, but they may be effective. Ultimately, we ask judges to balance innovation and quality. Neither aspect should be lacking from a program that receives high scores.


There is no single score for program replicability or scalability. As an award for innovation, we ask judges to consider if the program’s innovation offers replicable value if others learn about this effort, or is scalable itself, and if that replication or scaling has the potential to advance the field for the better. Evidence of replicability and/or scalability should be indicated in program leaders’ efforts or plans to scale up the program reach or activity.


There is no requirement for the number of youth impacted by the program, though the number of students reached is a strong consideration. We ask judges to carefully consider the breadth of audience reached, as well as the depth of that impact for members of the program audience. Judges are encouraged to consider the efficient use of program funds per student. While there is no score assigned specifically for audience reach, judges should use comparisons of audience breadth and depth of impact per person as a means to assess programs of similar quality and equally appreciate programs that are able to extend their reach in unique and impactful ways.