Local STEM summits connect business and education

Over the past spring and summer months, five communities around the state hosted local STEM Summits to connect business and education stakeholders together to discuss ways to improve student engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in both the traditional and non-traditional classroom settings.  The communities came together after receiving a $5,000 grant provided in a joint effort between the Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition and the Missouri Afterschool Network.

Retired St. Louis Science Center Director and education consultant Carol Valenta inspires local Kirksville business and education leaders.

Retired St. Louis Science Center Director and education consultant Carol Valenta inspires local Kirksville business and education leaders.

The grants were designed to inform local business and education leaders about the importance of STEM education during both the school day and afterschool settings.  The STEM Summits provided local leaders with opportunities to learn from experts about how to develop STEM networks and coordinate community efforts to support expanded STEM learning opportunities. The grants provided support and technical assistance to local teams throughout the process of building their local STEM networks.  The first round of STEM Community Engagement Summit Grants were awarded to the Kirksville Chamber of Commerce, the Fenton Area Chamber of Commerce, Arcadia Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Nixa Chamber of Commerce. Some of communities, like Fenton, Mo., have been collaborating for years, but have never pulled together so many diverse educators and business professionals to discuss current and future STEM opportunities for K-12 students. “Due to the Fenton Chamber’s strong connection to Education Scholarships, hosting a STEM Summit seemed like a perfect match for our chamber and Community,” said Jeannie Braun, summit coordinator and Executive Director Fenton Area Chamber of Commerce.  As a result of Jeanie and her board’s efforts, close to 60 key professionals came together to learn from local K-12 students on existing programs and open the door for future endeavors.  A focal point for Fenton was tying afterschool programming being developed under a new biodiesel program to current traditional day STEM curriculum. Scott Borlinghaus, vice president of Fabick CAT and host for the summit, spoke directly to participants during the opening remarks: “No matter what career you choose, having a background in science or math as a core part of your education will be important.”

Kelly Pearce with SSM St. Clare learns more about Northwest High School's Project Lead the Way.

Kelly Pearce with SSM St. Clare learns more about Northwest High School’s Project Lead the Way.

Scott continued to stress the need for business and education communities to come together more often to help improve the types of meaningful STEM opportunities that students encounter each day. In Kirksville, this was the first time that more than 40 education and business stakeholders came together to discuss STEM education and afterschool programming. Sandra Williams, executive director of the Kirksville Chamber, stated in her opening to the group: “We’re finding the emergent workforce, whether its high school or college graduates, they don’t have the technical skills to be hired.  We have to have people to replace the outgoing workforce and we have a need for resources to keep students interested in science.” Williams’ message was the central theme for the attendees at the summit.   Breakout sessions and subsequent speakers focused on what the regional needs were for the community and where resources could be expanded to meet future needs. Keynote speaker and educational consultant, Carol Valenta challenged the area business and education leaders to rethink their approaches to K-12 education mentioning early childhood, middle school and afterschool as areas where attention is most needed. “It’s all about connecting science to real life,” she said. “If you get youngsters interested in science, the chances are you’re on the way to creating that pipeline for business and industry.” The summits brought key business and education leaders together to focus on how best to develop strategies and programming to infuse and improve STEM learning in the K-12 setting.  As a result of these summits, the Kirksville, Southwest Missouri and Fenton regions have established STEM networks that will continue to come together to work on making improvements in their respective regions.   A second round of STEM grants is being considered for the 2015 year.

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