Exceptional Exemplars

NOTE: You can find this blog entry and more stories from around the Initiative in the upcoming issue of EAST Quarterly, available Dec. 1 at https://issuu.com/eastquarterly.

 

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Matt Dozier, CEO and President
The EAST Initiative

In 2009 we quietly started a special program to recognize outstanding EAST students who might not necessarily get recognized in very public ways. We call them Exemplars, and the recognition is pretty straightforward. Exemplar is a 10-cent word that means “a person serving as an excellent model.” So, when a staff member or member of EAST’s Board of Directors sees an outstanding EAST student out in the field — in school or at a public presentation — they take them aside and present them with a special coin to acknowledge the great job they are doing. We think it’s a nice way to show our appreciation to students who are modeling the very best of EAST in the real world.

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The times I’ve been privileged to recognize an Exemplar I have told them, “This is a small token of appreciation and a tradition we started a few years back. As an old English teacher, I’m going to ask you to look up the word ‘exemplar’ because you are one. I’m also going to tell you that I want you to hold on to this, and every time you see it I want you to remember that you impressed a lot of people today, and I can’t wait to see where you go from here.”

dsc_0676I’m always delighted by this little exchange because of the reaction I see in students. Invariably they respond with a mixture of confusion (“what is going on here, exactly?”), pride (“I know I did something special”), and excitement (“this is pretty cool!”). Not only do I get this reaction, but I’ve witnessed it from across the room seeing one of these rare coins being awarded. Like I said, it’s a quiet, special kind of thing that makes for a very good day.

This is not an everyday occurrence, though. Students must set themselves apart in order to earn this recognition, and that’s a challenge when there are so many impressive students in EAST. Becoming an Exemplar means clearing a high bar, which is why we only recently handed out the 100th coin. That means that, in last seven years, we’ve awarded fewer than 15 each year on average among thousands of EAST students.

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Many of our Exemplars have gone on to college or the workforce. Some of those we’ve kept up with through the EAST Alumni Association; others have yet to let us know where they’ve landed. And of course, a few are still working their way toward high school graduation. Regardless, they all share one special thing in common: on the day they received their Exemplar coin, they were one of the best students in the world, not just in EAST. They deserve congratulations, so you’ll find all of them listed below.

_MG_0540.JPGNow, given the fact that we’ve been at this for years and dozens of people have been involved in awarding and recording Exemplar recognitions, there’s a chance we may have missed some of these outstanding students. That would be a shame. So, if that’s happened, we want to correct it. If you know a name that should be on this list but isn’t, please let me know. If you have stories to share about some of these very special students, please share those with me, too. We love this tradition and look forward to meeting the next hundred EAST Exemplars.

Student Name School Year Awarded
1 Ethan Abel Hot Springs Intermediate School 2016
2 Avery Alpe Wilson Intermediate School (Malvern) 2011
3 Kellie Armstrong Cross County High School 2012
4 Henry Beard III North Pulaski High School 2010
5 Sam Bennett Mann Magnet Middle School 2009
6 John Berkshire Bryant High School 2013
7 Eric Beza Bryant High School 2013
8 Audrye Blankenship Kiamichi Technology Centers – Talihina 2011
9 Sawyer Boone North Little Rock High School – East Campus 2011
10 Seth Britney Vilonia High School 2012
11 Tayler Broach Wickes High School 2009
12 Joey Brodnax White Hall High School 2012
13 Carter Brown Russellville High School 2009
14 John Caldwell Arkadelphia High School 2012
15 Riley Carraway Batesville Middle School 2011
16 Trenton Cason Greenwood High School 2013
17 Madeleine Chrisman Ozark Middle School 2011
18 Logan Clairborne Beebe Jr. High School 2011
19 Caitlin Cothern Annie Camp Jr. High (Jonesboro) 2010
20 Chase Cray North Little Rock High School – East Campus 2013
21 Whitney Crouch Ozark Middle School 2011
22 Savi Davidson Harrison Jr. High School 2016
23 Lacy Diston Greenbrier High School 2010
24 Lucas Dorrough Dardanelle High School 2011
25 Sara Earnhart Greenwood High School 2013
26 Tyler Elmore Jacksonville Middle School 2012
27 Filaberto Escamilla Monticello High School 2010
28 Jake Flood Batesville Middle School 2011
29 Asher Franke The University of Arkansas at Little Rock 2015
30 Mackenzie Frederick Robinson Middle School (Pulaski County School District) 2015
31 Anslynn Garner Greenwood High School 2011
32 Abby Gates Clinton High School 2009
33 Lola George MacArthur Middle School (Jonesboro) 2012
34 Sean Gilden Vilonia High School 2012
35 Kaley Harlson Harrisburg High School 2009
36 Kaylyn Harrison Dumas High School 2009
37 David Harrison Fountain Lake High School 2011
38 Anna Heringer Batesville High School 2013
39 Kennedy Hill MacArthur Middle School (Jonesboro) 2012
40 Noah Holt North Little Rock High School – East Campus 2013
41 Hailie Jackson Bald Knob Schools 2013
42 Darius Jarrett Bryant High School 2013
43 Daniel Johnson Sylvan Hills High School 2009
44 Kate Jones MacArthur Middle School (Jonesboro) 2012
45 Tyler Jones Jacksonville Middle School 2013
46 Blane Keen North Little Rock High School – East Campus 2013
47 Austin Kelley Malvern Jr. High School 2011
48 Kassandra King Ozark Middle School 2011
49 Kye Kocher Harrisburg Middle School 2015
50 DeLena Lattimore North Little Rock High School – East Campus 2013
51 Jessica Lavin Har-Ber High School (Springdale) 2009
52 Michael Leiterman Forrest Heights Middle School 2011
53 Kristin Long Harrisburg High School 2010
54 Mackenzie Mallett Greenbrier High School 2010
55 Aaron Maxey Sylvan Hills High School 2009
56 Christina McAllister North Little Rock High School – West Campus 2013
57 Kylie Miller Sonora Elementary School (Springdale) 2014
58 Remington Miller Robinson High School (Pulaski County School District) 2014
59 Shanoa Miller The University of Arkansas at Little Rock 2010
60 CJ Morgan Dumas High School 2009
61 Kaliah Morton North Little Rock High School – West Campus 2013
62 Hayden Nix Rison High School 2010
63 Aaron Osborn Northeast Technology Center – Claremore 2011
64 Ann Paul Malvern High School 2012
65 Parker Payne Beebe Middle School 2011
66 Elea Pulliam MacArthur Middle School 2012
67 Elmore Quist Bauxite Schools 2012
68 Rodrigo Ramirez Dumas High School 2009
69 Nathan Rappold Vilonia High School 2012
70 Erin Richards Vilonia High School 2012
71 Chase Robinson Greenbrier High School 2016
72 Sierra Rohauer Beebe Middle School 2011
73 Kelsey Rood Malvern Jr. High 2011
74 Jessica Roy England High School 2012
75 Brenden Ryan Vilonia High School 2012
76 Zainab Shah Brinkley MIddle School 2014
77 Caleb Shatser North Little Rock High School 2012
78 Gabrielle Sisk Ozark Middle School 2011
79 Alyssa Smith College Hill IB Elementary (Texarkana) 2009
80 Brenna Smith Fordyce High School 2016
81 Brandon Stephenson Kiamichi Technology Centers – Talihina 2013
82 Micah Thomas Russellville High School 2009
83 Christopher Toller Clinton High School 2016
84 Kristen Torres Bald Knob Schools 2013
85 Rikki Vaughn Sonora Elementary School (Springdale) 2014
86 Kevin Walker Conway High School 2013
87 Jordan Washburn Conway High School 2013
88 Elizabeth Washington Brinkley Middle School 2014
89 Emily Watkins Beebe Jr. High School 2011
90 Imani Watson Brinkley High School 2014
91 Leann Westbrook Blevins High School 2011
92 Clayton Weyl Prairie Grove Middle School 2013
93 Frednesha Whiting North Little Rock High School – West Campus 2013
94 Spencer Whitley Centerpointe High School 2009
95 Layne Wilson Robinson Middle School (Pulaski County School District) 2015
96 Kaitlyn Witt Conway High School 2013
97 Kaitlyn Woodward North Little Rock High School – East Campus 2011
98 Krista Woodward Bryant High School 2013
99 Katie Wright Clinton High School 2016
100 Amma Yates Robinson Middle School (Pulaski County School District) 2015
Posted in EAST®, Letters from the President/CEO, Matt Dozier, Uncategorized, What is EAST? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EAST in the Valley of Innovation

 

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Matt Dozier, CEO and President
The EAST Initiative

Nov. 10, 2016 – What a week this was! As I write this, a team representing the EAST Initiative is on a plane heading home from Silicon Valley after very little sleep but so much engagement and excitement. Last night the Initiative was recognized by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation as a STEM Innovator at their 2016 Pioneers and Purpose Reception and Banquet. EAST was one of four recipients of this recognition, but the only recipient not from the state of California. We shared this honor with the MK Level Playing Field Institute, the Girl Scouts of Northern California, and the Abraham Lincoln High School’s (San Jose Unified School District) Computer Science Program. The evening also saw recognition of John Haynes, an inspiring teacher at Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City, as the SVEF Elevate Teacher of the Year and of Dianne Greene, Senior Vice President of Google, as the SVEF Pioneer Business Leader of the Year.


14956475_1665278553763606_8372218569067127694_nThe banquet hall was filled to capacity with people that have been instrumental in building the companies that we all recognize and know (and with whose tech we interact every day). At Table 30 was our small contingent from far away: three EAST staff members, the EAST Board Chair, and the facilitator and two students from the 2016 Founder’s Award winning school, Harrison Junior High School. Wow! I’m proud to report that the work we are doing was met with unbridled enthusiasm by everyone we visited with (and I think we talked to everyone there), and when the moment came, EAST was the only honoree to put a student on the stage to accept on behalf of the Initiative.

Prior to the banquet, we learned that this award has grown from a small recognition of innovative programs in the Silicon Valley area to a national recognition that is chosen in a blind evaluation by volunteer judges (from some very recognizable companies). We also learned that EAST is one of the few programs not based in the Valley, or California in general, to ever receive this award and that over the years it has only become more and more competitive. So much so, in fact,  the SVEF staff said that this year was the most competitive year they had seen. And here we were, being held up as an Innovator and an example in the epicenter of Innovation!

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Frankly, it was humbling. I was visiting with some of the guests at the reception and an executive at a technology company in the Valley made the point to me that it is often when you get further from home that you realize just how special the work you do is. He noted that, since you’re surrounded by your work, you get used to it and can assume that it just “is,” but after hearing about EAST and our story he assured me that the work our students are doing is amazingly special. After visiting with our students, he came up to me at the end of the banquet and told me, “Matt, I misspoke earlier, it’s not special, it’s extraordinary! And oh, so special. Please thank them again for me for everything they are doing and remind them that, when the time comes, we hope that we can talk to them about their career goals….” Pretty darn cool, if you ask me.

Now we didn’t just travel 3,300 miles to mingle at a reception and pick up an award. We used this opportunity to visit with people in the area about the work of EAST. We had the pleasure of sharing tacos with a VR specialist that has seen her career move from Hollywood to Oculus to Facebook to her own private work in developing Virtual Content for a variety of uses. She was equal parts fascinated and intrigued by our work and gave us insight into the future of this technology and advice on how to continue to build on the work that the Initiative is doing. We met with staff at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (the largest Community Foundation in the country) and stopped by SVEF ahead of the big show to meet with their founder and staff.  

14991833_10208873780615946_317742378447436340_nNot wanting to waste the opportunity to provide our Harrison team with some adventure, we ventured into San Francisco on election night to have dinner at one of the best restaurants in Chinatown. The honey-glazed prawns and walnuts were a huge hit, the eel was met with mixed reviews, and only two of us thought the jellyfish was tasty. Through a series of misadventures we found one of the best ice cream shops on the planet, but you wouldn’t know it by the neighborhood or the storefront, but (and take it from someone who knows these things) it was AMAZING even if it was sweet potato or popcorn based.

 

15042041_1665722823719179_6521700486189436207_oWe also spent some time at the Tech Museum in San Jose. I serve on the Arkansas Discovery Network (ADN) advisory board, so I love to see how others are creating experiences that transform museums from places to see things to places to do things. The “Tech” was incredible! Totally immersive and hands-on, and they even wired us up with wearable technology that captured our personal experience in the various exhibit and work areas. At the banquet, I was fortunate enough to meet and visit with Tim Ritchie, CEO of the Tech, and discovered that we were both members of the Sam Dean fan club. Sam is a friend of EAST that runs the Amazeum in Bentonville, a member of ADN that is a “must-do” when you’re in that part of the world.

15055616_10208881230122179_1073776515733090646_nOh, and we got a private tour of a company that’s headquartered near Stanford University that you may have heard of: Google. Our team took the Googleplex by storm and learned so much about the unique culture of “can do” that makes Google so innovative. I visited with one of their recruiters and she assured me that EAST is helping to provide that STEM pipeline that they value so much. I didn’t get to pick the Doodle, and they wouldn’t let us talk to the people working on the Space Elevator, but we were on campus surrounded by 50,000 of the smartest, hardest working people in the world. I came away realizing that when you step onto campus at the Googleplex you actually walk through a time machine and are living 3-18 months in the future.

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When all of the going and seeing and meeting was done, we changed into our “go to a banquet” clothes at the San Jose Convention Center and went to the event. EAST was recognized (with actual fanfare), and we got to meet so many amazing people. The aforementioned Dr. Greene was easily the most fascinating. An engineer with experience in marine engineering, she was also the driving force behind some of the early efforts at Virtualization (she led VMware until it was acquired). She was someone who helped create the world we live in and continues to do so. She’s as passionate about sailing and windsurfing as she is about technology, and she caught the bug in high school when she was given the opportunity to… (wait for it)… tackle projects. Sound familiar?

When the event was over, we headed back to our hotel for not enough sleep before a California commute to the airport at “Oh No” o’clock. I was able to derive the following conclusions:

  1. EAST can stand up to any other model anywhere as a way to approach learning that is innovative and powerful. I long for the day when I can change that statement and say that EAST is the norm. All students, everywhere, should have the opportunity to do what EAST students do — to be innovative, themselves — every day.
  2. We are blessed to be able to share our successes with people who understand what success looks like and why the work that our students are doing is critical to the continuation of real innovation. EAST students will build the future using STEM skills, using their civic commitment, using their exemplary teamwork, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication skills. I’m especially thankful to the staff at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, the Tech, and Google for being so gracious with their time.
  3. You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to build that future. We’re doing it in Harrison and Springdale and Star City and Caddo Parrish Louisiana and Bucks County Pennsylvania and beyond. I hope that EAST can find a place in the Valley (and know some of our students will), but there is opportunity everywhere, and I am so thrilled to watch it blossom.

It was a special time. Not just because we won an award, but because we also got to spend time sharing our story and learning from others. We may land in Little Rock bone-weary, but it’s the best kind of tired. The kind that comes from working hard and doing a good job.

cw3vmvnukaedlw3I want to thank the hundreds of facilitators and the thousands of EAST students (the hundreds of thousands over the years) that led us to this point. I want to thank Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the faculty at the Clinton School for Public Service Center on Community Philanthropy for agreeing to be references for us. And I want to thank you and all of the people that support the work of the Initiative and our students. We have something very special. They see it in Silicon Valley. I see it every day. I hope you see it too.

Until next time.

MD

Posted in EAST®, Letters from the President/CEO, Matt Dozier, STEM, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summit Summit Disrupt Summit

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Matt Dozier, CEO and President
The EAST Initiative

I promised last time that I would report back on what I learned during my sojourn up into the Boston Mountains, but I’m not sure that I can relate it all in a single blog post. Over the course of two days my brain got filled and refilled with information, inspiration, and moments of absolute puzzlement (because I met some super smart people that know things). It was enough to make my head spin — but in a really good way.

To an extent, my time in Northwest Arkansas was an interesting call and response. The first summit was the Arkansas STEM Coalition’s. This full-day meeting focused on identifying the issues that our communities are facing in cultivating and sustaining the ecosystem that fosters growth of the critical skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and demonstrating what is being done to address this.

I’m not going to lie to you; there are some pretty significant gaps between perception and reality, between preaching and practice, and between deciding on a solution and actually acting on it. Keep in my mind, these are observations from my eyes; they are not the opinions of any sanctioned body (or necessarily even right). But I see teachers and students every day (inside and outside of EAST) that are doing great things; using technology and tools in innovative and exciting ways and building their capacity to think and create and all the things that people talk about schools needing to foster. The real gaps I see are that they are not done in a coordinated fashion and that we are not doing what we need to do institutionally to make sure that everyone knows what these things are.

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Courtesy: Arkansas STEM Coalition on Twitter

But, my favorite part of the STEM Coalition meeting (because I’m biased) was the presentation over lunch by the students and administration from Springdale’s School of Innovation. Dr. Jim Rollins, Springdale’s Superintendent, talked about his drive to make sure that students have the opportunities to realize their potential using technology both as a tool for learning and as a springboard to learning. To prove his point, two of the School of Innovation’s students presented their work. One is prototyping a drone that can swim in the stormwater system and relay video in real time so that trash can be monitored and dealt with. He and his team are working with the University of Arkansas and the Tobacco Free Coalition to refine their ideas and model. Another student presented how she and her team were developing some sophisticated hydroponic and aquaponics systems so that the school can have an agricultural program that is as progressive as the rest of the school. The School of Innovation’s principal and the district’s EAST coordinator then tied all of the presentation up by explaining how the things the students were doing fit into a continuum in their education in ways that tied them to educational goals across the curriculum and to real world experiences working with local industry. It was really powerful, and I encourage you to learn more about the work that they’re doing. They’re onto something.

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Scenes of STEM

Other cool things: The team at the Amazeum are, in fact, pretty amazing and they understand what my good friend Ms. Lavita Wills-Hale preaches every day, “the learning shouldn’t stop because the formal learning institutions do.” They also understand that some of the best learning happens in the gaps between being given a task and being asked to present your finished product. If you’re anywhere close and need to recharge your energy, enthusiasm, and creativity, I recommend that you do what my friend Sam Dean recommends: “put on your princess costume, don your eye goggles, and go take apart a van at the Amazeum.”

The STEM Coalition meeting was a great setup, then, to the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit, which was held the very next day. This one-day meeting featured some insightful presentations and discussions. I would say they showed us the future, but most of what they showed us was already happening. So, in a lot of ways, they just made sure we got to see the now, or at least a fraction of it.

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Dr. John Cohn

The Tech Summit kicked off with a real eye-opening presentation by Dr. John Cohn who is an IBM fellow and a self-professed “mad scientist.” He was unafraid to bring the Internet of Things right into the Grand Ballroom while he encouraged us to grow and evolve with the future. We see it becoming more and more present, but our things are getting more and more connected and what we’ve seen over the past six or seven years is just the beginning of the beginning. Soon every science fiction movie you’ve ever seen will seem quaint, as it has to when your bathroom mirror will do a personalized health diagnostic for you every morning.

From there we broke out into so many session on so many things that if I tried to tell you about all of it, this post would run in chapters. My favorites were the demonstration of some of the technologies Arkansas Children’s Hospital is using to fulfill their mission; an overview of where we are now with drones (the flying ones, not Springdale’s swimming ones) presented by the good folks at Garver; cybersecurity concepts presented by Metova, a company based in Northwest Arkansas; and an update on the Fayetteville Innovation Lab and Robotic Center (which is analogous to one of my favorite places near home, the Innovation Hub).

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson

When you combine all of this with large group session where Max Oglesbee of Intersection showed us all how to retrofit a large metropolis’ infrastructure with web-enabled public access portal and our friends from the Amazeum (again) blowing things up and the Vice Chairman of Citadel, Mr. Kevin Turner, coming back to Northwest Arkansas (where he got his start) to let us know that “the future belongs to the fast” and encourage to do, do, do. Oh, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke, too. What a day!

Now that I’ve had a few days to try to process all of the things I saw, I can report that there are some great things going on from the classroom, to the research center, to the makerspace, to the boardrooms of technical and technology-based organizations in the region. We are so lucky to have so much opportunity in front of us, and I am personally excited to know that EAST is helping to provide the pipeline that can keep this innovative thinking and development happening.

Until next time,

MD

Posted in EAST®, Letters from the President/CEO, Matt Dozier, Northwest Arkansas, STEM | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Here’s What is Happening

Hello, It’s Good to Be Back

 

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Matt Dozier, CEO and President
The EAST Initiative

Well, I know that it has been a while since we last met here on the blog, but we here at EAST have been busy “dreaming up” a more coordinated communications strategy and have spent quite a bit of time trying to make sure that all of the pieces fit together the way they need to so we can do the best job possible in telling our story. If you’ve been keeping up with us over the years, you know that’s it’s only one of the coolest stories ever: real students in real schools taking an active role in building stronger communities while learning the sorts of things that make them the captains of their own destiny and prepared to lead us all in the years to come. The more concise way to say that is, “Wow! That can be done?!?”

 

 

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EAST Quarterly Summer 2016

Rather than flood your inboxes and overwhelm your newsfeeds, then, we’ve been carefully looking at how to share these stories in the best venues. We now have a website that is visited over 400,000 times a month, a digital magazine that reaches thousands across the globe, all the social media that’s fit to print, this blog, and other avenues to share the accomplishments happening every day in EAST. We’ve got the plan, and you’ll start seeing more and (hopefully) interesting information on this blog that you won’t get anywhere else. I hope you find it inspiring, thought provoking, and useful.

 

 

EAST is Happening!

Speaking of useful, EAST is happening and making a difference! We’ve settled into the new school year and our fall training is in full swing. It’s great when we have facilitators and students in our headquarters. We feed off their excitement and love watching them learn new things. This week it was Phase Training (Phase II) and Motion Graphics (with students as young as the fourth grade). Meanwhile at our Fayetteville Training Center, our good friends at CAST were leading a training session in Reality Capture technologies; cutting edge stuff. Our online trainings and classes are getting robust participation, too.

Last week, we opened our doors and invited the world to Encounter EAST! Over 300 guests stopped by to learn more about the work of the EAST Initiative and to see great examples of that work through the work of our students and facilitators. We are especially thankful to Harrison Junior High, Wynne High School, Greenbrier High School, North Little Rock Middle School and Pinnacle View Middle School for volunteering to share their work. And there was an ice cream truck…it was a blast.

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EAST at North Little Rock Middle School students demonstrate a VR project at Encounter EAST.

Encounter EAST was the kickoff for our recruiting efforts and we’re pleased to announce that our Vision Building meetings have begun. We held the first one of the year this week and half of the schools that came to learn about EAST have applied for the Arkansas Department of Education grant already. If you know of a school that is interested in learning more about how to start an EAST classroom, the information for the next set of these is here.

Speaking of things to come…

 

Upcoming Activities and Northwest Arkansas Events

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We are only a few weeks from EAST Night Out! Encounter EAST allowed the world to come into our headquarters and see the big picture of what we do; EAST Night Out is an opportunity for all our EAST schools to invite their community in and see the work they do at the local level. On behalf of our schools, we invite you to find an event near you and go see the amazing things happening in your area. The EAST Night Out website has gotten a fresh look. Feel free to admire it while you find an event near you (just click the link). We have more than 50 schools registered today with new ones being added almost daily. We’ll be on the road visiting as many as we can and hope to see you there, regardless of where “there” is.

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We’ll also be traveling next week for the Arkansas STEM Coalition’s regional meeting Thursday in Rogers, which will be a think tank for business, education and community partnerships. Sounds right up our alley!

2016_nwatechFinally, we’ll finish out the week at the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit. This looks to be an incredible opportunity to hear some phenomenal national leaders from the tech world—names like Microsoft and IBM. We can’t wait to hear them, and of course we’ll be sharing our vision of technology and education with attendees as well.

Check back here for a full report on these last two! We’ll have it to you very shortly after the events. We’re excited about the goings on going on and can’t wait to tell you all about them.

 

EAST…it’s what’s happening!

Posted in Central Arkansas, EAST®, Letters from the President/CEO, Matt Dozier, Northwest Arkansas, Open house, STEM, What is EAST? | Leave a comment

EAST and the Inaugural Afterschool STEM Summit

Matt Dozier, EAST Initiative President and CEO

Matt Dozier, EAST Initiative President and CEO

I recently had the opportunity to network with several new (to me) people and organizations working hard to provide significant opportunities for students around the country. The Inaugural Afterschool STEM Summit was hosted by the Noyce and C.S. Mott foundations and brought together more than 500 people from all 50 states to share their concerns, their successes, and, most importantly, their creativity, all squarely focused on what is sometimes called non-formal educational programs that focus on STEM.

I was there as a guest of the Arkansas Out of School Network, one of the 50 Statewide Out of School Networks (SANs), funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation, charged with identifying, supporting, and advocating for practices and policies that expand opportunities for students during the Out-of-School Time hours.

If you’ve been following the news, the research, the literature, or this blog, you are aware that STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is a critical area of education that our academic systems and institutions sometimes have a very hard time keeping up with. But STEM is a hot topic. The educational pendulum began to swing back towards more significant learning in these fields a few years ago because there is a massive disconnect between what students are studying and what the vocational needs are in business, industry, and government. The reality is that there are lots of jobs in STEM fields that are going unfilled because there are not people to fill them.

STEM Summit

That lack of students seriously pursuing STEM learning threatens to hamper America’s innovative capacity. We’re the country that invented the internet, the personal computer, and so many of the technologies that permeate our everyday lives… but we’ve started to become primarily consumers of those technologies and seem content to let someone else do the “heavy lifting” of engineering and programming and developing the next generation of technologies and scientific breakthroughs.

If we’re going to put astronauts on Mars or eradicate cancer or just create the most immersive virtual world for collaboration or entertainment, we’re going to need people to do these amazing things. Real, normal people. For me, there is a great deal of satisfaction knowing that, for two decades, our EAST students have been setting these kinds of goals. And yet, that very pride points to the reason that I found myself in the nation’s capital at a summit that was focused on developing these skills and providing these opportunities OUTSIDE of the school day.

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Though EAST officially started directly supporting afterschool projects and programming in 2000, local programs have been doing projects that take place after school hours and away from the classroom since its earliest days. It’s only natural. As students work to solve problems, their projects have to meet those problems where they are — and that often isn’t in second period. So much of the world does not adhere to an arbitrary bell schedule.

So for a long time EAST has been a bridge between the standard curricular world and the out-of-school real world, but it is only in the past three years that we’ve begun, as an Initiative, to stress partnerships with organizations that are dedicated to afterschool work. You may have read about our work with the Arkansas Innovation Hub, or perhaps the People Tree, or the Arkansas Discovery Network, or other organizations better established in the afterschool environment. We’re doing this because we know how powerful it is to have strong relationships with all sorts of organizations that want to help our students build their skills and passions.

Imagine a world where learning opportunities surround us from first light to the end of the day from the first day of school to the last day of summer. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Well, you don’t need to imagine it; it already exists. The internet alone guarantees that much, but many of our students are also taking advantage of other opportunities and seeing great benefits.

One of the points brought out at the Summit was that sometimes, more learning happens outside the classroom than in it (a point that EAST is squarely in agreement with). Why? I think it goes back to engagement. When students choose to take part in something, they are more likely to commit to the learning that goes on in the activity. If they see that it has real world outcomes or consequences, then the learning is even more powerful. The non-formal educational programs are built around students choosing to participate and choosing how they participate.

None of this makes formal education less important. To be honest, I think it makes formal education more important. Because the opportunity to study a subject in a structured way fills in the gaps of what experiential activities leave behind. It allows for a fuller understanding…and maybe, just maybe, a career path (or at least a lifelong love of something that you never appreciated until you were steeped in it).

In this, STESS FrontM is just like other learning. I think it’s a cart and horse thing. To really appreciate anything, you have to do it. You roll up your sleeves, stick your hands in, and get the squishy bits between your fingers. Neither science nor Shakespeare were meant to be pondered until you understand them; they’re meant to be experienced so you can begin to ponder them. Math means more when you’re using it to solve community problems, not the odd numbered problems in chapter five. To fully understand a subject, including STEM subjects — to think like an engineer or to become a technologist — you have to mix the structure with hands on opportunity.

What I learned at the Afterschool STEM Summit is that there are a whole lot of people who are committed to providing opportunities to spark curiosity, wonder, and the joy that is learning. They know we can’t leave it up to the schools to do it all. They have lots of strategies and ideas and programs that build on the structure students get between bells. They want to be part of the solution and help bring balance back to learning. They want to provide opportunities for all students to find their passion. In short, I learned that there are many more people who believe exactly what EAST believes. That makes me happy.

The EAST Initiative and the EAST model were both founded to provide students with opportunities that they weren’t getting anywhere else. The commitment of the hundreds of organizations that met at the Afterschool STEM Summit is the same. We all want to make sure that students are having the opportunity to have experiences that will build them and give them more choices in life, not fewer.

It was a great Summit, and, as I rode the plane home, I couldn’t help but think that the only thing better than meeting people as passionate as you are about something is meeting people as committed to that passion as you are.

Until next time, I’m Matt and that’s that!

MD

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Introducing EAST Night In

Matt Dozier, EAST Initiative President and CEO

Matt Dozier, EAST Initiative President and CEO

For the past eight years, the EAST Initiative has coordinated the efforts of local EAST programs in a National Open House event we call EAST Night Out. EAST Night Out is designed to be a fall event that is a great way to reconnect with community partners and build excitement for the coming year. Through this event EAST programs across the country open their doors to thousands upon thousands of guests and can springboard this one evening into a year of great projects and student growth.

Like most things EAST, EAST Night Out is often a student-driven project in and of itself. The students plan their event, prepare the activities, invitations, and logistics of welcoming the community into their classroom for a night of sharing and celebrating.

The staff at EAST particularly loves EAST Night Out because it’s an opportunity for all of us to go out into the schools early in the school year, especially staff that doesn’t often travel to the schools. We also coordinate the travel of some of our Directors and other VIPs when schools ask for them. All told we travel a few thousand miles to celebrate with the students, the facilitators, and the communities. When my jokes aren’t too bad, I even get invited back later in the year from time to time.

Students in northeast Arkansas presenting during EAST Night Out 2014.

Students in northeast Arkansas presenting during EAST Night Out 2014.

We love EAST Night Out, but we’ve always wanted to build on it. This year we are with a new event we have christened EAST Night In. EAST Night Out is formally set for Tuesday, October 13, but twelve days earlier we are planning on opening the doors of the EAST Headquarters for our very own Open House at EAST Night In! Yes, we will be including and showcasing the work of many of our programs and their students, but we wanted to take an evening and share with the world the work that we are doing supporting our schools and being a bona-fide educational success story in our own right.

On Thursday, October 1 from 5:30 to 7:30 I am extending my personal invitation to you to drop by and celebrate this incredible Initiative. The EAST staff will be on hand to demonstrate some of the new technology we are putting in our schools, share the work that we do in Site Support, Professional Development, Beyond the Bell, and a dozen other things you may or may not be familiar with. Like I said earlier, we’ll have students on hand demonstrating some of their mind-blowing projects and we hope to have a wonderful crowd from our community to celebrate with us.

ENI-Invitation

Yes, there will be some food and snacks, but there will be more networking and collaboration than you can shake a stick at. There’s not a formal presentation or program, we’ve built it so that everyone that comes can spend time celebrating with us and thinking about ways we can all work together to bring more opportunities to our schools and students.

The EAST Initiative is a powerful team of smart and energetic people who love the opportunity to help our schools. Please come by and learn more. I promise you’ll leave inspired!

Before I sign off on this blog post, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to extend thanks to our great friends at First Security Bank who will be providing much of the yummy food for this event. They have been strong supporters of EAST for over fifteen years now and can always be counted on to support the real mission of EAST. They believe in our students and in our model, too, and they’re incredibly fun to work with. We are blessed to have supporters like them on our team.

Mark your calendar now. We hope to see you at EAST Night In… and then we hope you go see your local school on EAST Night Out.

Until next time,

-MD

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Forge IDEA Challenge

Editor’s Note: The following a guest blog by Darrell Henderson of Forge Arkansas, organizers of the Forge IDEA Challenge. I’ll let him tell you a bit about this unique contest and the concepts behind it and hope EAST students will take up the challenge:

Darrell Henderson

Darrell Henderson, Forge Arkansas

The world of startup businesses is highly caffeinated, rapidly paced, and maneuvers aggressively toward bold and decidedly innovative solutions. What would the startup sphere look like if it transplanted the most inventive thinkers to the moon?

The Forge IDEA Challenge is a startup competition that asks students exactly that, and will inspire them to “Innovate Under Extraordinary Circumstances!”

The Challenge

The Forge IDEA Challenge places 11th and 12th grade EAST students in the northeast Arkansas area on the moon in 2035. At this time the moon has been the target of a popular Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game that allowed players to control lunar rovers as characters to engineer a sub-surface human habitat. Now, after five years, the top 50 most innovative players have the opportunity to live in the lunar base they have worked so hard to create.

As part of the challenge students build a startup that solves a problem on the moon. They work through the lean canvas model to identify and develop a plan to execute a solution. There are several real-world takeaways from this fictional world that give just the right kick in the pants to send these students on the fulfilling path to entrepreneurship.

  • Experience Startup Culture – The startup culture is unique and high octane. A taste of this exciting world would inspire a career as a serial entrepreneur.
  • Encounter Challenges in Entrepreneurship – Getting your hands dirty in the challenges that arise for startups is an excellent experience.
  • Network with Entrepreneurial Students – The Forge IDEA Challenge connects students from all over the northeast Arkansas area and requires them to collaborate with like-minded individuals.

Where, When, and How?

The Forge IDEA Challenge will be in the new Nettleton High School STEM wing, on October 3rd.  We are looking for Innovators, Developers, Entrepreneurs, and Artists (IDEA) who want to explore the startup world. We are limiting participation to 50 students for the first year, and students can apply at forgearkansas.com/challenge.

Forge_IDEA_Challenge

Until next time,

-MD

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