Eastern North Carolina has long embraced the importance of STEM education in developing skilled labor. STEMEast was initiated in 2009 to establish a network that would develop talent, beginning in middle school. Overwhelming research shows that middle school is the pivotal point at which students turn on or off to education in preparing for their future. By engaging students in a learning environment that favors a workplace engineering lab and changing the instructional method to hands-on, team-oriented learning modules that connect to possible careers, students are learning in a whole new way. Students are developing specific skills they will need to find a job in just a few years and employers are cultivating a pipeline of qualified talent.
To further its goal of building a pipeline of qualified talent by starting in the classroom, the STEMEast Network has introduced STEMEast Connect, which is a is an online community that enables STEM professionals to inspire students through virtual, skill-based volunteering. Classrooms can connect with STEM professionals for live, interactive sessions. STEMEast Connect allows educators to bring real world examples and experiences directly into the classroom through these virtual connections. The STEMEast Network utilized resources made available through Department of Defense STEM outreach support to introduce the STEMEast Connect platform across the network of STEMEast schools.
Educators can use the STEMEast Connect platform to request STEM experts to help support classroom activities. The STEMEast Connect network automatically matches each teacher’s request to the skills of professionals in the database and schedules the virtual collaboration. This collaboration can take many forms such as topic presentations, project mentoring, virtual tours, industry chats, project evaluations, project-based learning, and genius hour; where students can explore their own interests and passions with the help of a STEM professional, while never having to leave the classroom. Due to the virtual nature of the platform, schools and STEM professionals can engage without having to disrupt large portions of their days when facilitating a visit to their facility.
The exploration, adoption and launch of STEMEast Connect is fully supported by the STEMEast Network Employers and Superintendents Council, which is the governing body for the STEMEast Network and includes network school superintendents and industry leaders that support STEM education in eastern North Carolina. “STEMEast Connect opens the door for true collaboration between our educators and employers. It creates a mutually beneficial relationship between the two where educators can rely on industry and other professionals to reinforce lessons while industries get an opportunity to introduce themselves to their future workforce”, stated STEMEast Executive Director, Bruce Middleton.