This week’s guest blogger is EAST’s very own Angela Kremers, Sr. Director of Corporate Strategy. Dr. Kremers is a passionate advocate for the work being done throughout EAST and has been since before she came on staff.
Ask most teenagers in Arkansas what they think about school and I am guessing you will hear comments like “it’s boring, it doesn’t apply to anything,” or “I don’t feel connected.” Yet youth today can navigate social media and the latest technology with ease. The reality is a disconnect between what teenagers are interested in and how they learn. This has a direct consequence on what motivates students and the typical school experience. This is a critical issue considering the American Legislative Exchange Council, among other national indicators, rank Arkansas education at or around 45th in the nation.
Schools need to bridge the gap between what motivates students to learn and how that will impact the education system, businesses and communities. To do this, we need to get youth connected to learning through technology and application to real world problems and solutions. There is a clear and direct link between educational attainment and poverty. Rural states such as Arkansas work hard to compete for a talented workforce because we lack a strong pipeline of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) prepared employees. So how do we fill this pipeline? We start in our local schools with programs like the EAST Initiative.
EAST programs are currently in over 200 schools in five states and a long waiting list exists. Funding limits expansion to approximately 10-15 new programs each year. Students in programs like EAST begin to feel a connection through technology and applied learning. Think about your personal experience of sitting in a classroom with desks in a row, staring at a teacher in the front of the room lecturing. Now imagine students in classrooms filled with sophisticated technology working on projects that integrate applied learning and civic awareness. EAST students engage in project-based learning with an economic impact of over $15 million annually in Arkansas alone. It is a recipe for success.
Arkansas and other states should continue to build on the great things happening with economic development and entrepreneurialism. Legislators, municipalities, school boards and administrators should make a tangible commitment to embrace the idea that technology and talent build the STEM pipeline to impact innovation and economic growth. The Argenta Innovation Hub is a big idea that is now becoming a reality. It is a great example of building an infrastructure to connect technology, entrepreneurial and community networks to drive innovation. The startup scene in Arkansas is growing and the participation of youth is a necessary investment; especially for girls and underrepresented minorities. Why is it so important for technology to be a greater focal point in schools? Currently, only three states include basic computer science skills, such as coding, in the required school curriculum. Yet according to the 2010 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report, “As the world becomes increasingly technological, the value of national assets will be determined by the effectiveness of STEM education in the United States. STEM education will determine whether the United States will remain a leader among nations.”
Rural states need computer scientists and programmers; we need STEM to be a priority. Arkansas STEMWorks was introduced by Governor Beebe’s Workforce Cabinet to bring more STEM programs into our schools. Programs include EAST Core, Project Lead the Way and New Tech schools. Among these programs, the Little Rock-based EAST Initiative is the only program developed in Arkansas. It provides direct benefits to the state’s local economy, schools and communities.
States can benefit from exploring emerging technology that other cities worldwide are integrating into economic plans. Examples include predictive technology, smart street lamps, geospatial mapping, use of cameras and speed radars to inform drivers of traffic issues. Asset mapping and apps for communication with state officials would be useful to bring awareness about city and community needs or problems (e.g. location of potholes, damage after severe weather, etc.).
We know that computer science and technological skills are a key lever in the STEM equation, yet the expectation for what is capable in K-12 learning remains too low. Young students need to be introduced early in their academic experiences to opportunities that set a high bar for expectations. When this occurs, move out of the way and you will be amazed. EAST students in elementary school are launching weather balloons into space, coding and creating sophisticated GIS/GPS maps. These amazing students are no different than any other student across the nation; they were just provided access and opportunity, something all students deserve.
With the Argenta Innovation Hub, the Iceburg in Northwest Arkansas, the Big Data Centers, EAST programs and the increasing infrastructure for startups and entrepreneurship in the state, we are poised for a “tech tipping point.” We need to embrace this and shout it out to the world – technology and talent build the STEM pipeline to impact innovation and economic growth.To accomplish this, we must get youth connected to technology and the real world around them.
By building a STEM pipeline one student at a time, we will reap the benefits with long term impact. No greater planning at the local, regional and national level can occur than to implement a culture and focus on technology, economic growth and talent. It is a great way Arkansas can improve quality of life through conveniences, safety, economic development, entrepreneurialism and fiscal responsibility. Youth really are a part of the solution.
The time is now to invest in youth, technology and education. We hope you will join us in our efforts to make education engaging and focused on what students will need to succeed in the 21st century global workforce.
EAST is founded on the idea that we can achieve more than we believe possible if we are just given the chance. Thank you for sharing more on this Dr. Kremers.
Until next time,
– Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education for STEM and America’s Future