Tuesday, October 21, 2014 · 7:56 p.m.
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Jennifer Ellis, talent acquisition coordinator, leads Hamilton County STEM school students on a tour through the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee campus last year. (Photo: Staff)

Emily Duncan, a freshman at Hamilton County's new STEM magnet high school, was wide-eyed after touring the LEED Gold Certified campus of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee atop Cameron Hill on Friday. 

"I really hope to work someplace like this one day," she said.

Duncan, along with more than 70 of her classmates, visited the BCBST campus for the school's first field trip since it opened its doors in August. Unlike more traditional field trips to a battlefield or a museum, the group found themselves hearing stories from actuaries, accountants and human resource professionals about life in a modern workplace. 

Dr. Tony Donen, principal for the school, said that the trip was intended to align with core practices taught at the school, such as professionalism, collaboration, innovation and critical thinking. 

"Those are the kind of things that take place in this building every day," Donen said. "We want to give our kids a sense of what those things look like, the chance to see a successful business in Chattanooga and hear from the people who work there. A lot of them might not know about the kinds of jobs that exist for them here when they're ready to begin a career."

Donen said that beyond exposing students to the world of insurance and health care, the purpose of the field trip was to give them a sense of how their school's integrated approach to education would prepare them for jobs that may not be needed or created yet, but would be in the future.

"It's about the topic of jobs that will exist for them in the future that don't necessarily exist right now," he said. 

Donen's comment was expounded upon by Karen Ward, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for BCBST. Following brief remarks to the students, Ward said that during her time working for Tennessee's largest health benefit planning company she had seen the skillsets required for workers at different tasks change dramatically. 

"The statistic that we go with is that 15 years ago, 70 percent of our workforce dealt with claims payment. Today, only 6 percent of our workforce does that," Ward said. "So obviously, technology plays a big role. And going forward, it's going to be ever significant with technology and data analysis—all things that these students are going to be doing in their lifetime. The opportunities that are at the feet of today's students are overwhelming."

Ward added that she would like to see the relationship between both BCBST and the STEM school, along with other schools and students in Hamilton County, continue. 

"This is a wonderful initiative in this community," she said. 

The STEM school, adjacent to the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College, promotes a collaborative-driven education focused on the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts. The school is designed to leverage partnerships in the business, higher education and industrial communities, as well as serve as a hub for regional STEM programs.

Earlier this year, Tennessee awarded the Hamilton County school system $1.85 million for the creation of the new school. 

Updated @ 12:54 p.m. on 12/1/12 to change an incorrect name.

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