Wednesday, October 22, 2014 · 5:38 a.m.

Chattanooga company announces nationally focused STEM program

Former Rep. Zach Wamp to chair advisory board

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Former Rep. Zach Wamp. (Photo: Staff)

Makers of a new, Chattanooga-developed online program are hoping it will have broad appeal nationwide to classrooms focused on STEM education.

Dane and Sheila Boyington, heads of Thinking Media, announced Monday the launch of Learning Blade, a "unique online tool" designed to generate interest in STEM applications to middle school students. The program will be aligned with Common Core Standards being implemented in states across the country.

In a press conference at The Chattanoogan Hotel, the company's leaders also announced the creation of its advisory board, which will be led by former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp. 

In brief remarks, Wamp, who now operates a consulting business, said the program would be at the "cutting edge of an important national mission" to provide students with the proper preparation for career fields relating to science, technology, engineering and math.

"That's a big quandary as we think about it in the competitiveness of America with other countries going forward," Wamp said. "Tons of money is being spent in other countries in engineering, math, technology and research, and as we know in the U.S., we're not as competitive in these areas as we once were—or as we should be or need to be. And so there's a huge focus on STEM."

Wamp added that a goal for the program would be to provide a path for students who otherwise might not have exposure to future careers in STEM fields. 

Describing the program, co-founder Sheila Boyington showed how Learning Blade presents students with problems relevant to today in an effort to pique interest and show the range of how STEM concepts could be applied. 

"We want to engage our middle-schoolers in STEM and hopefully keep their interest," Boyington said.

Along with Wamp, Learning Blade's board will include a number of accomplished and influential leaders in STEM-related communities. Among its members include representatives from New Mexico's STEM network, the Next Generation Learning Initiative of Ford Motor Company, Oak Ridge Associate Universities, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Tennessee Valley Authority. 

Dr. Bill Madia, a former director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will also serve on the 12-member board. 

By having a network of board members spanning across the nation, organizers said they hope to advance the Learning Blade software across the country. The group will work in partnership with the Battelle Memorial Institute, the world's largest nonprofit research and development organization.

In Chattanooga, the project employs 16 full-time workers. As Learning Blade is rolled out, the team will continually update and add to components of the all-online platform, Boyington said.

Leaders for Learning Blade added that the software would begin being piloted in January of next year in six states, including Tennessee. Although the software will likely be tested in Hamilton County schools, organizers for the program did not specify which schools would potentially be participating. 

Learning Blade joins of a host of recent community ventures into STEM in recent months.

Earlier this year, Hamilton County opened its first STEM school, beginning with a class of 75 students and drawing participation from a number of players in the local business, industrial, higher ed and philanthropic communities.

Updated @ 6:30 p.m. on 12/3/12 to remove KeyTrain from the list of companies owned by the Boyingtons. They sold KeyTrain to ACT. 

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