STEM Center receives another $1 million in federal funding

Tennessee Tech University received another funding boost worth more than $1,040,000 for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) center.

The funds will bring the university closer to breaking ground on a facility to house the Millard Oakley STEM Center, named for benefactor Millard Oakley who has already donated $2 million in private funds to the effort.

The center’s goal is to improve the way teachers and professors — from preschool through college — teach science, technology, engineering and math-related subjects, and to help students of all ages learn to enjoy them.

The new federal dollars came in two parts, a $300,000 grant and a $740,000 interest-free loan from USDA Rural Development through the Caney Fork Electric Cooperative. The funds come in addition to more than $1.29 million in previous federal grants for the center.

“We are honored to partner with USDA Rural Development and the Caney Fork Electric Coop on this program,” said TTU President Bob Bell.

“This grant and loan take Tennessee Tech a step further toward our funding goals. The TTU center, created to help improve the quality of teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, will have a far-reaching impact.

“Tennessee Tech’s goal, like that of the Rural Development and Caney Fork Electric programs, is to enhance the educational experiences for children in this area. The Millard Oakley STEM Center will help us improve the teaching and learning of these subjects from pre-school through college.

"Those efforts, in turn, will help our youth become better prepared for their future. I am also truly grateful to all our State congressional leaders for their support and recognition of the importance of this program.”

The $300,000 federal grant was provided through the Rural Development Office’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant thanks to efforts from the local Rural Development office and Caney Fork Electric as well as the State’s congressional leaders in Washington, D.C.

The RBEG grant program provides assistance to public or not-for-profit entities to support community economic development programs that assist small businesses in developing local business infrastructure, providing job training, conducting feasibility studies and providing technical assistance to businesses and community leaders.

The $740,000 interest-free loan will help TTU complete its STEM project by purchasing the equipment to outfit the STEM Center building. The loan, payable over the next 10 years, will be repaid with private donations through the TTU Foundation, which has already included the funds in its annual budgets. Another $1.5 million in private donations is still needed to fund the STEM Center building.

The design and construction drawing phase is scheduled to begin in the next 8-10 months and will be to State Building Commission specifications. The facility will be located on 7th Street at the site of the former School of Nursing building.

The Millard Oakley STEM Center will serve as a point of collaboration between university faculty members and public school teachers. As university faculty and students conduct research and develop improved teaching methods, the center will help them share that knowledge with area teachers, who will be able to use the center for their own research and teaching plans.

The university is already coordinating collaborative programs with regional schools on STEM-related projects.

The center will house state-of-the-art laboratories to help train teachers in the region to develop better methods of teaching science-related subjects with appropriate technology. Area schools may use the center for hands-on activities based on real-world challenges such as space exploration, robotics and environmental protection.

TTU faculty and officials developed the STEM Center idea in response to a dwindling interest in America of science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, combined with growing competition from other countries. These trends are causing the U.S. to lose ground in scientific discovery and innovation, areas this country once dominated.

The number of STEM job openings in the U.S. is growing at a rate more than five times that of the number of American college students graduating with degrees in STEM fields, according to a report by the Task Force on American Innovation, and the number of STEM graduates in some other countries already exceeds the number here.

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