In order for the United States to maintain its status as a world leader, it is vital for the workforce and leaders of tomorrow to be equipped with the ingenuity and skills to solve tough problems, gather and assess evidence, develop highly productive teams and employ creativity to find effective solutions. Through his “Educate to Innovate” initiative, which was launched in 2009, President Obama called upon major companies, universities, foundations, non-profit organizations, government agencies and engineering societies to form strategic alliances in support of an “all hands on deck” approach to education – primarily in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Efforts have included training and hiring highly skilled teachers in these subjects, broadening STEM’s reach to underrepresented groups, including females and minorities, and establishing key public-private partnerships (to the tune of $700 million to date). Here in Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal has embraced the STEM movement wholeheartedly. As a major supporter of excellence in education and the advancement of our state as a place for individuals and companies to flourish, Governor Deal is the ideal advocate for STEM education at the state level. A STATEWIDE INITIATIVE “The Georgia Department of Labor predicts that between now and 2020, 80,000 new jobs will be added in Georgia,” said Jen Talaber, Director of Communications for Governor Deal’s office. “While we already have skilled workers in Georgia, it was clear that we needed to grow that workforce. In 2011, the Governor launched the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative to address any and all barriers to job growth. Among the things this initiative identified were the need to make STEM part of the curriculum in classrooms throughout the state and the need to effectively train teachers to deliver a world class STEM education – then reward those who were doing it well. We knew that if we were going to deliver a highly skilled workforce of the future, we would need to introduce STEM at a younger age. We also needed to grow our partnerships with the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), the University System of Georgia (USG), state government agencies and the private sector.” In the years since the launch of the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative, there has been an increased focus on workforce training beyond the K-12 realm. The Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant identified a skills gap in seven technical fields. Students who major in those seven fields – which include Information Technology (IT), Healthcare Technology, Computer Technicians, Precision Manufacturing and more – will benefit from free tuition funded by the grant. The state also established the Innovation Fund for schools and teachers that create and implement STEM-related coursework. Georgia is one of three states currently involved in the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowships, which “seeks to attract talented, committed individuals with backgrounds in the STEM fields into teaching in high-need secondary schools.” “This truly is a multi-pronged effort,” explained Talaber. “The Governor is continually involved in an ongoing dialogue and meetings and at the end of each one, he comes back with new ideas. Of course, the main goal is to provide companies with a reliable, well-trained workforce. In order to maintain a deep talent pool, we need to keep developing. Computing is one of the fastest growing occupations nationally. It is believed that more than half of the 80,000 jobs headed to Georgia will involve computing. As a matter of fact, coding now satisfies a world language requirement in some schools, and we’re working to expand access to this invaluable course of study to more students. Governor Deal’s grandson is currently taking coding to satisfy his own world language requirement. It’s no secret that we’re a major hub in the Southeast, so many IT companies are drawn here. Atlanta and Augusta are rapidly becoming a high-tech corridor, but there will be a growing need all over Georgia. Our location, infrastructure, university and technical college system, and workforce training make us a leader… a top state to do business.” GOOD FOR BUSINESS “Whereas two years ago, the focus was on incentives to attract businesses to individual states, now the focus is on the provision of a skilled workforce to compete for business,” explained Ben Hames, Deputy Commissioner of the Workforce Division at the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD). “Folks who were on the sidelines during the recession are back in the game and ready to expand. The further we get into economic recovery, the more challenging it becomes to compete in the workforce arena. This is a real opportunity for Georgia to set ourselves apart by being very committed to STEM education at the K-12 level all the way up through our relationships with the USG and the TCSG.” Through the Governor’s office and GDEcD, the state has a robust program designed to keep lines of communication open with companies that might prove an excellent match for Georgia. By asking questions such as “What are your workforce needs now and in the future,” the state is better equipped to connect the dots and make policy changes in order to adjust to those needs. For instance, when it became clear that there would be a growing need for computer programmers in the coming years, moves were made within the education system to expose more students to computer programming. Hames suggested that the Governor’s thinking is that workforce development equates to economic development. He positions the GDEcD Workforce Division to serve as a connector between companies and USG/TCSG in order to keep the publicprivate dialogue going. It’s also his division’s role to turn that ship as they learn of more and more demand for civil, mechanical and environmental engineers, and to create programs to meet those needs and fuel the pipeline with skilled workers. “Engineering workforce challenges are not merely Georgia challenges, it’s a global issue,” said Hames. “This is a field that is academically challenging, so the earlier we can ignite an interest and encourage students to develop those signature STEM skills, the better. At the post-secondary level, we’re already starting to see a shift in this arena. In 2014, there was a nine percent increase in engineering students year-over-year. More and more students are electing to enter engineering disciplines. Georgia Tech is considered among the elite engineering programs in the nation and, when compared with most elite peers, it costs about 75 percent less and produces two to three times as many graduates. It also has the largest voluntary co-op program, which features very talented students who are already plugged into the workforce.” STARTING SMALL At this time, the state of Georgia has 18 STEM-certified K-12 schools – that number is expected to explode over the next few years. According to the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), there are currently more than 700 schools working toward STEM certification and many of those with a focus on engineering. Currently, of the 18 STEM-certified schools, 15 offer a focus on engineering. “Very few states have a STEM school certification initiative,” said Matt Cardoza, Director of Communications with GaDOE. “We have a STEM Certification rubric that describes what a STEM-certified school should be doing and helps guide them through the certification process. Our STEM education initiative focuses on career development and strong 21st century thinking skills. The GaDOE offers many opportunities to assist schools interested in STEM. We have summer STEM Teacher Academies that help teachers learn projectbased learning and STEM integration. We host STEM programs for middle school girls to encourage women in STEM and offer a competitive STEM Georgia Educator Laureates program that allows teachers all over the state to earn points and digital badges for STEM activities they complete. We also host the premier STEM conference in the state. The Georgia STEM Forum will be held October 26 and 27 in Athens at the Classic Center.” THE POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION COMMUNITY’S SUPPORT OF STEM Sheila Jones, Senior Executive Director of Innovation & Policy for USG’s Office of Educational Access and Success, couldn’t agree more. While President Obama initially kicked off his “Educate to Innovate” initiative in 2009, USG had already been funding a similar initiative for more than a year. Unfortunately, Georgia was still in the lowest quartile of Bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering when compared against other states in the nation. To change that, USG helped launch math + science = success™. The goals of this initiative were to increase the number of K-12 students who prepare for and are interested in majoring in STEM in college, increase the success rates and number of students in college who pursue the STEM disciplines, as well as increase the number of teachers who are prepared in science and mathematics. The results of their efforts are promising. In 2014, USG awarded nearly 19,000 degrees in the STEM fields. That was up about 4,000 graduates from just four years earlier. “That really speaks to our commitment to innovation and the facilitation of student success in STEM,” said Jones. “We believe that children should be launched into STEM experiences as soon as they start to learn. We need to foster those inquisitive minds and love of learning at an early age by making sure our K-12 schools are well-prepared, and then carry that same spirit right on through their post-secondary education. At the system level, we work closely with the Department of Education to make sure we’re all on the same page at every level. We also encourage our individual institutions to foster relationships with the feeder schools by providing continuing education for teachers, going out into the schools with real-world experiences, providing STEM camps for high school students and more. Through the STEM Initiative, USG is working with faculty to improve student achievement in critical gateway STEM courses, designed to prep post-secondary students for entrance into a STEM major. Ultimately, we want our students to be prepared to do anything and go anywhere in the world. We strive to provide the best foundation so they can continue to be lifelong learners.” Meanwhile, TCSG is on a similar mission. Mark Peevy – Executive Director for Secondary Initiatives for TCSG and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Georgia Charter Schools Association – is a major advocate of STEM education. “A strong STEM background is vital to where the work world is headed,” insisted Peevy. “We’re seeing it pop up steadily in primary and middle schools all over the state, and its importance is stressed even more in high school, but it’s critically important by the time students arrive at post-secondary schools. A STEM education background is a great fit for the TCSG system. To make certain that there is a steady flow of STEM students out of the high schools and into our college system, we work with all of the high schools in Georgia. We have coordinators at each of our colleges so as many students as possible have access to the information they need to decide what their next step should be. Currently, 12,000 college students are taking advantage of our programs – that’s a 25 percent increase year-over-year.” Attributing to that rise may be the ingenious move to allow high school students to attend classes at a TCSG school for dual credit. Not only do they receive credit toward their high school graduation, they also receive credit on their college transcripts and are officially considered a college student. Peevy referred to this “both sides of the fence” approach as a bold first step to bridging the gap between high school and college. As part of the Move On When Ready Law (SB 132) – a new dual enrollment program to allow high school students to attend college classes at a post-secondary institution full-time and receive high school credit and college credit simultaneously – tuition costs, mandatory fees and textbooks are covered by the state. As for students coming out of the TCSG system, Peevy hopes they have attained two key characteristics: RELEVANCE – a basic understanding of how the work they’ve done while attending college will apply to the business environment in which they hope to land. READINESS – a general readiness to work with all of the major skills that make him or her a critical thinker, problem solver and team player and will build their value to a future employer. THE ENGINEERING COMMUNITY’S SUPPORT OF STEM While many engineering firms and organizations have ties to STEM schools throughout the state, the work that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is doing is particularly note-worthy. As one of the oldest international engineering organizations, ASCE has more than 2,600 members right here in Georgia and is committed to encouraging interest at all levels of the education system. “There is a lot of demand out there, so we have close to 100 volunteers right here in Georgia who go out and assist in the schools,” explained Shaukat Syed, Environmental Engineer at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division and President- Elect for ASCE Georgia. “They may create a career day or tech day, set up booths with engaging projects, establish clubs, hold contests for cash prizes, set up student chapters, speak to students about how science and math can help them become engineers and encourage them to excel. As we are moving forward, we are noticing an increased interest in STEAM programs – which add Arts to the mix. We participate in those, as well. We want to be involved and help schools and teachers with their programs. ASCE has strength in numbers and a desire to give back to the community. We can provide the resources to help students excel and – in turn – keep that pipeline of engineers flowing.” To that end, ASCE also has a scholarship program at the university level. Syed stated that a lot of effort has been made to spark interest in the field of engineering and encouraged all members of the engineering society to become involved, even when it can be defeating to attend a career day and see longer lines at the cosmetology booth than the engineering booth. “After all, the whole world needs infrastructure,” said Syed. “In the case of civil engineering alone, you’re looking at a vast and diversified field. For economic growth and advancement in the future, we need to have students who are willing to take on the responsibility of providing a strong infrastructure. We need to maintain our edge in the world with regard to technological advancement and that can only happen if our students are successful.”
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