The story was published August 07, 2015, in the St. Louis Business Journal. Written by Brian Feldt, who covers technology, venture capital, startups, real estate and sports business. Click here to see original article.
The last thing Barbara Pener wanted was to spend a week of her summer vacation in the classroom.
But her desire to grow professionally and bolster her ability to better position her students to succeed convinced her to sign up for Washington University’s STEM Teacher Quality Institute.
Called STEM TQ, the annual program shows kindergarten through eighth-grade educators how to better enhance STEM curricula — science, technology, engineering and math — through hands-on and real-world examples.
“My goal was to strengthen my skills and learn something new to bring to the classroom,” said Pener, a science and robotics teacher at Nipher Middle School in the Kirkwood School District. “I recognized the workforce, for my students, is going to include all STEM-related fields. That will be the predominant career choice for many of them, and I felt like I have an obligation to them to show them that.”
Indeed, STEM jobs are expected to grow by 12.4 percent by 2022, according to Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, which noted that STEM is the 15th fastest-growing job category. STEM graduates are set to enter the workforce with higher starting salaries than almost any other college major, with computer science majors leading the charge with an average starting salary of $66,800, according to Forbes.
STEM TQ was piloted in 2012 and launched in 2013, three years after a group of corporate leaders — a group known as STEMpact that includes officials from AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Emerson, Express Scripts, MasterCard, Monsanto, Peabody Energy, Sigma-Aldrich Corp. and Washington University — got together to discuss how they could boost the number of STEM professionals in the St. Louis area.
“We were really trying to determine what the best avenue was to address some of the concerns we were seeing around a prepared and qualified workforce locally,” said Danny Sherling, global citizenship manager at Sigma-Aldrich and board member at STEMpact. “We tossed around a few ideas, but decided the best way to help was to provide professional development for teachers. There are great organizations that provide summer camps and STEM programs for students, but we felt our niche in the area would be supporting high-quality development for educators.”
Corporate funders — there are now 16 — contribute a total of $600,000 annually to support the program, which after this year’s session (held in July), has graduated more than 400 teachers from school districts around the St. Louis metro area.
STEM TQ, led by Deborah Holmes, a former Kirkwood School District administrator, is held at Seigle Hall at Washington University and costs $3,200 per teacher, which is covered by the program.
“We approach STEM as a mindset,” Holmes said. “The first thing we do is liberate the educators from thinking about lesson plans and get them to see STEM everywhere.”
To that end, STEM TQ takes teachers on field trips to places such as Pole Position Raceway in Crestwood, where the enrollees build mousetrap cars and drive go-carts; Challenge Learning Center to perform a mock space mission; and companies like MasterCard, Ameren, Monsanto and Express Scripts where they get other hands-on experiences.
“These fieldtrips work because they show the real world applications,” Holmes said. “Many of us in education are on one side of the desk, so real-world examples aren’t part of our experience. But if they go on a field trip and look for a second-grade math curriculum on the floor of Express Scripts, you’ll find it. And they leave with ideas of STEM-itizing their curriculum throughout the school year.”
Pener said she picked up lots of ideas through STEM TQ.
“I didn’t even know some of these companies existed in St. Louis, and now they’re acting as resources to help teach us to show students the real-life application,” she said. “You’re a STEM student no matter what career endeavor you might choose. I try to convey that. I start the year out using that acronym often so they become familiar with that, and throughout the year, I should be using it less and they should be using it more and understanding that it’s just part of everything they do.”
STEM TQ has grown dramatically from its 75-teacher pilot in 2013 to 165 teachers participating this year. Expansion is on Holmes’ mind, but not imminent.
“We do hope to do more this year with school leaders and districts’ curriculum leadership so that we can affect more students,” she said. “We’re always having ongoing conversations among folks in that corporate giving community about it.”