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Jeff Meadors: STEM Institute matches student skills with workplace needs

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

Can public school leaders hatch innovations for students within minimum competency guidelines set by the state?

Samantha Fuhrey is doing it. Fuhrey leads with an acumen that, with continued support, represents a game-changer for local public schools.

Crusading to leverage core curriculum to meet workplace needs, Fuhrey states, "We are definitely exploring how to increase rigor while getting students prepared for the workforce and/or college. Nothing is 'off the table' when we are dreaming the dream for our kids!"

The local education titan has already deployed an inaugural innovation: the STEM Institute opens this fall at the Newton College and Career Academy.

A brainchild of Fuhrey, James Woodard, Rita Bucovaz and Lynn House, the institute will graduate an annual cohort of students with enhanced STEM diplomas starting commencement in 2017. The STEM 55 kick off their journey with a summer STEM camp in July; they will train for four years at NCCA.

Flanked by high profile initial partners Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and Emory, the NCSS STEM diploma requires five math credits, to include AP statistics and calculus, a fifth science credit, to include at least one AP science, and four additional pathway credits. Students may participate in dual enrollment as juniors and seniors.

The popular acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, STEM is 21st century catnip for business and industry seeking communities where innovative public education programs thrive. With the right leadership in Newton, this institute may represent high yield for all who invest in public schools, including post-secondary community colleges.

Speaking at the 2012 US News STEM Solutions Summit, University of Texas-Austin math professor Uri Treisman argued that "A 10, 15 percent increase in (STEM degree) completion would solve our national problem."

Fuhrey is on it.

Community colleges can provide those skills and help graduates move into high-paying, secure jobs as long as colleges understand workforce needs.

Treisman continues, "There are massive disconnects between high school programs and higher Ed programs."

Even so, Florida's Indian River State College connected the dots. The college established a Regional Center for Nuclear Education and Training as the U.S. faces the need for 41,000 skilled nuclear employees by 2030. Two years of training at RC-NET can funnel students into six-figure jobs.

Will the STEM Institute channel similar outcomes in the Newton region?

So credible are Newton's STEM efforts that Georgia Tech approached NCSS to partner on the i3 (Investing in Innovation) education grants.

I3 aims to develop and expand practices that accelerate student achievement and prepare every student to succeed in college and in their careers.

Like RC-NET, Fuhrey's STEM vision is strategic: dump high quality STEM graduates into local work places and colleges on an annual basis. Why? Because she firmly believes in our students.

A leader who believes in our students will work for students; a leader who does not will work for money.

Hopefully, middle schools will explore STEM cohorts to feed the high school program as this train moves full steam ahead.

Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.