Tennessee Tech’s Millard Oakley STEM Center has been at the forefront of enhancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for the region’s students since it opened in 2010, and a recent grant places the center in an even more active role.
Now the official Hub for the Upper Cumberland Rural STEM Initiative, the STEM Center received $500,000 of a $1.5 million grant from Tennessee’s First to the Top program. The remaining $1 million went to the Putnam County School System.
Part of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, the UCRSI Hub will support partnerships between post-secondary education entities, local and regional school districts, and businesses and non-profits that are interested in STEM education.
As the Hub, the STEM Center will coordinate processes among the partners to create customizable lessons and experiences for classrooms and communicate progress on the program’s objectives. The Hub will document the activities, successes and results and share best practices among participating school districts. Additionally, the Hub will actively seek funding to continue the efforts beyond the initial timeframe for the grant, which is two years.
The UCRSI website will launch this fall and provide training resources for teachers and private and public community partner volunteers.
The flow of information won’t be one-way though, according to STEM Center director Sally Pardue.
“We are not planning to simply send out information to our partners,” Pardue said. “The Hub is designed to encourage an intentional and ongoing conversation with our educators and the broader community to promote innovation and create a more unified and consistent approach to teaching STEM subjects across the entire region.
“The STEM Hub will leverage connections to enhance how students learn STEM subjects and establish the framework to engage the students in authentic ways. For students to understand why these subjects are important, they need to see, touch and experience them in real-world situations,” she said.
While efforts have begun in Putnam County, the program will reach far beyond the county line. More than 72,000 students in 20 counties will benefit from the initiative. UCRSI programs will launch this fall in the Lebanon Special School District and in the following counties: Bledsoe, Cannon, Clay, Cumberland, Dekalb, Fentress, Grundy, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Sequatchie, Smith, Sumner, Trousdale, Van Buren, Warren, White and Wilson.
Shirley Myers, former Overton County supervisor of instruction and Hub manager, is pleased with the opportunities and resources that will be available to the schools and educators.
“UCRSI allows us the time and technology to help so many counties to work collaboratively, to better communicate best practices, and to be able to customize the learning solutions so all students can get the maximum benefit,” said Myers.
“This will place additional, practical tools in the hands of our dedicated educators to help them get students excited about learning STEM subjects.”
Developing a collaborative network is a primary goal for UCRSI. Local businesses and groups have joined the partnership, and Pardue encourages more to commit to the cause.
“Each partner brings unique resources and expertise to the creative table, and we’d like to include more partners who share our passion for STEM education for our students,” said Pardue. “The UCRSI Hub will serve as a regional example of the power of collaboration. Through this united effort and sharing of resources, students will have access to a better education and brighter futures.”
The Oakley STEM Center is housed in Ray Morris Hall at Tennessee Tech. For more information, contact the STEM Center at 931-372-6573 or visit tntech.edu/stem.