The word is out: More science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs are being created today in the U.S. than non-STEM jobs, and predictions for job creation 10 years from now anticipate this trend will continue, according to a 2013 Bayer Corporation Facts of Science Education Survey.
In Tennessee, industry experts predict that 10,000 STEM jobs will be added to the state’s economy in the next five to 10 years.
Traditionally, STEM occupations have been classified into four broad categories: computer and math, engineering and surveying, physical and life sciences, and STEM managerial occupations. However, recent reports indicate that many STEM studies have underestimated the much larger role of a STEM-literate workforce in the economy by neglecting the many technical jobs that require STEM knowledge: jobs such as mechanics, carpenters, electricians, machinists, welders and plumbers.
Efforts to address the demand for STEM expertise in the workforce began with President George W. Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act, which targeted funding to critical areas like increasing the number of college graduates with STEM expertise. President Barack Obama has built on these efforts through the continued development of STEM initiatives geared toward specific, critical goals.
In an effort to develop a STEM-literate workforce in Tennessee, six regional STEM Innovation Hubs and seven STEM-themed schools have been established across the state with Race to the Top funding provided by the Tennessee Department of Education and Battelle Memorial Institute.
In the spring of 2012, the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub opened in Chattanooga in partnership with the Public Education Foundation. The Innovation Hub, which serves 24 school districts throughout the region, is fully funded through June 2014. Chattanooga’s STEM high school, operating as a magnet school, also opened in 2012 on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College to serve as an incubator for STEM practices. The school currently serves ninth- and 10th-graders and will add two additional grades over the next two years.
In less than two years, the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub has worked to inform, engage and educate the community about STEM learning through their work with teachers, students, businesses, higher education, informal educators and the community at large.
"The partnerships we have seen forming between businesses and educators in the region have been powerful," said Keri Randolph, director of learning at the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub.
The Innovation Hub's STEM education efforts in the community are vast. They have established professional learning and job-shadowing programs in STEM fields for teachers. They currently work with 38 educators as part of a regional STEM Fellows Program and facilitate a STEM Student Council of 42 students from across Southeast Tennessee.
The Innovation Hub also serves as a leader in the state’s Pathways to Prosperity Program, a community-based effort to design and implement academic career pathways that align with regional workforce needs. The program is currently underway in Bradley, Hamilton, Marion and McMinn counties, with a focus on manufacturing and information technology industries.
In May, the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub awarded five $10,000 grants to STEM programs that work among multiple schools and grades. Grants were awarded locally to three Red Bank schools and schools in Bradley County.
In partnership with the Public Education Foundation and the Benwood Foundation, the Innovation Hub recently awarded grants for the purchase of iPads and Chromebooks for designated grade levels at six Chattanooga-area schools: Red Bank elementary, middle and high schools; Calvin Donaldson Elementary; East Lake Academy; and Howard High School.
The Innovation Hub also created a free Vimeo channel, Innovate Education, which features short educational and promotional videos about STEM learning aimed at teachers, businesses and communities interested in expanding STEM opportunities.
"I have seen a lot of excitement about STEM and a lot of great things happening in classrooms and throughout the community, which is what it’s all about," Randolph said.
The Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub hopes to continue their momentum after their Race to the Top funds run out in June 2014. Their current fundraising efforts through the Public Education Foundation aim to support future STEM education efforts in the region.
"I have been amazed at how much we have been able to spread the word about the importance of STEM," Randolph said. "We hope to continue empowering others to understand and implement STEM in the region."
Visit the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub website for more information.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a Chattanooga-based writer and naturalist who enjoys bringing to light all that makes Southeast Tennessee unique. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.
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