STEM grant focuses on middle school outreach

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October 21, 2011

12:56 AM

Just as a stem supports a plant’s growth, the College of William and Mary’s Science, Technology, Education and Math (STEM) Education Alliance recently received a grant that will facilitate educational development for middle schools in the Williamsburg area.

The first of the three-year $2.5 million sole-source grants from the U.S. Department of Defense will fund so-called STEM programs within secondary schools.

“It is such a national priority to focus on the middle-school age because this is the age group where students either become interested or discouraged by advanced math and science level courses,” Dean of the School of Education Virginia McLaughlin said.

This grant will facilitate projects like the pairing of scientists and engineers from the Department of Defense with teachers in STEM classes, but one specific sum of money will be directed toward outreach in middle schools.

“Working with STEM has broadened my appreciation for the essential role that STEM careers will play in our nation’s future and the role that educators must play in introducing students to this important and interesting career field,” Emily Dwoyer, a graduate student who received a two-year Graduate Assistantship from the grant, said.

Although the grant will not affect students at the College directly, Executive Director of the STEM Education Alliance at the School of Education Gail Hardinge sees the grant as relevant to the College because it will employ students and create awareness amongst students and alumni about potential future STEM careers.

“Looking at STEM careers for college students is also a real plus because I think there is going to be a great deal of opportunity due to the ‘graying’ of the STEM profession,” Hardinge said.

Future pursuits of the program include conducting evaluations in Charleston and Philadelphia, collecting data from a longitudinal study that tracks students’ college and occupational decisions, and distributing career kits with posters and facts for secondary counselors.

“You choose what you’re going to be based on what you’re exposed to. We’re trying to broaden that exposure by saying, ‘Here are all the possibilities, now pick the job that fits you best,’” Hardinge said.

Principal of King George Middle School Seidah Ashshaheed commended the hands-on opportunities provided by the STEM project in her own school.

“Students have ample opportunities to use higher-level thinking skills and to solve real-world issues that plant seeds of career possibilities and spark interests in STEM career fields,” Ashshaheed said.

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