Schools, county and private sector collaborate on science education
September 25, 2012
Four words will tie education and economic development together in the future — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. An acronym for the four subjects, STEM, has become ubiquitous in discussions of American students’ readiness and competitiveness in the high-powered markets of the 21st Century.In Carson Valley, the school district has been working with Douglas County Economic Vitality, GE Energy and other private and public partners to grow STEM learning, training and application in a way that will bear fruit in the future. Superintendent Lisa Noonan said the National Governors Association, which spearheaded Common Core State Standards, has recommended school districts create so-called “STEM centers.”“The next big capital project for the school district is slated for Douglas High School,” Noonan said. “To enhance that project, district staff members are reviewing grant opportunities that could add to the current plans and create a STEM center on campus to serve both students and adults in our community. Designated areas of the enlarged campus could serve as a model for how teachers can integrate subject areas and create project-based learning opportunities for students. New science labs are in the new plans, and technology classrooms will provide flexible space for a variety of hands-on projects.”The stakes couldn’t be higher. Noonan pointed to Francis Eberle, executive director for the National Science Teachers Association, who argues that U.S. science and math students are quickly losing ground compared to students in other countries.“It is clear that most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science — 10-year employment projections by the U.S. Department of Labor show that of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation,” Eberle said. “Increased commitment from businesses and other stakeholders that support STEM education is critical, now more than ever.”While DCSD officials hope to collaborate with UNR, WNC and other state entities on the project, they’ve already garnered support from GE Energy in Minden.Earlier this month, GE hosted a car and motorcycle show that raised more than $2,800 for the STEM center. “In conjunction with the car show, they held a used computer monitor and laptop sale for employees that added to this total,” GE Community Relations Specialist Holly Spiers said in an email. “Our employees are also eligible to submit for matching donations through the GE Foundation, so the amount most likely will go over $4,000 at least, but the $2,800 is actually what we have in hand.”GE wasn’t alone in their support of the program. Several local businesses provided raffle prizes for the event, including Gardnerville Automotive & Transmission, All American Tire & Automotive, Inc., NV West Motorsports, Hollar’s Automotive & 4WD, Champion Auto Glass, Napa Auto Parts and Bob’s Performance Center.County Economic Vitality Manager Lisa Granahan said the sought-after STEM center would “align education with business.”“It will help kids see clearer paths as where they want to work,” she said. “They’ll see those opportunities.”It would also reinforce the county’s efforts to establish a business science park near GE Energy and WNC in Minden. Nevada Venture Accelerator, a clean-tech consulting firm working on the project, described the park as an economic cluster, a “geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers and associate institutions.”“I think we will continue to strengthen relationships with the business community,” Granahan said. “We’re hoping to get more businesses involved, to really listen to what businesses need, and to align education and workforce.”When the Douglas County Economic Vitality Strategy and Action Plan was first approved in 2010, Granahan said, proponents recognized the county has little control over school district policy, despite K-12 education being identified as a priority within the plan. “One of the biggest things we realized is how important education is to really make a difference in future economic vitality,” she said. “It’s not an area where county government has much control, but we’re forming partnerships to make sure we bolster our community, help attract people to this area, and educate for those jobs our businesses will be offering.”For more information on the proposed STEM center at DHS, contact the superintendent’s office at 782-5135. For more information on STEM itself, visit http://www.stemedcoalition.org.