By Alexandra Foran, NSRDEC Public AffairsNovember 1, 2012
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Nov. 1, 2012) -- Representatives from Research, Development and Engineering Command and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center were among more than 1,000 people who attended the ninth annual Massachusetts STEM Summit, held Oct. 11, at Gillette Stadium.
The purposes of the event were partnership and collaboration among business leaders, educators, politicians, and even a few students gathered to further the advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, known as STEM, for students.
The event included speeches from officials representing the private and public sectors, including the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, Kraft Group, Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, National Grid, Verizon Foundation, Massachusetts Secretary of Education, a NASA astronaut, and many others.
"The STEM fields are essential to our growth if we want to remain competitive in today's global economy, and we are proud to host the STEM Summit at Gillette Stadium this year," said Robert Kraft, chairman and chief executive officer of The Kraft Group. "Amazing young people from all over the world come here (to Massachusetts) to be educated. We must keep them here and grow not only the greatest companies of the future, but also the greatest companies in the world."
Kraft spoke at length about the importance of education, especially in reference to today's ever-changing technology. He joked about these advances, saying, "Before, tweet used to just be a noise," and "The only 'apps' that people like myself used to order were before dinner."
Many speakers and break-out sessions discussed the need to help students become excited about STEM classes, possible STEM internship opportunities, and, ultimately, STEM careers.
"So many of our young people, who are engaged in robotics and different programs like that, can see a tangible way that the work that they are doing can transform the world, literally and figuratively," said Massachusetts Lt. Gov Tim Murray.
Donna Bulger, NSRDEC representative, has witnessed firsthand the effect STEM programs have on children and young adults. The Land and Sea Robotics Camp, which was hosted at NSRDEC but run by Natick High School Robotics team volunteers, helped nurture students' enthusiasm for STEM for both middle school participants and the high school mentors.
"I've seen a really positive progression of a well-coordinated STEM effort in the state," Bulger said. "Back in the original summits, there were a lot of programs and a lot of activities, but it was unclear what the goals were."
Now, there are a set of focused goals. The six quantitative goals for the state's STEM plan are as follows:
-- increase student interest in STEM
-- increase STEM achievement for students Pre-K to 12
-- increase percentage of students ready for college-level study in STEM majors
-- increase number of students who graduate from a post-secondary institution with a degree in a STEM field
-- increase number/percentage of STEM classes led by effective educators Pre-K to 16
-- align STEM education programs with workforce needs of key economic sectors
The biggest goal of the STEM summit is to support children through education in order to prepare them for a world in which STEM careers are vital and thriving.
"Today's announced funding and the efforts and feedback from the engaged audience at today's summit will build on this foundation to further prepare a talented pipeline of students who will be ready to apply 21st century skills in the state's workforce and compete in our global economy," Murray said.
The Army, surprisingly to some, plays a big role in education and has a variety of STEM programs open to students.
"For me, it was more on behalf of the Army Educational Outreach Program, or AOEP, to get plugged in here with some of our efforts nationally," said Louie Lopez, Program Manager for STEM Education at RDECOM. "I am trying to get the pulse of what goes on here with STEM."
Lopez mentioned how Maryland has similar business roundtable discussions and STEM summits. He also explained two of the biggest AEOP programs.
eCYBERMISSION is a web-based free STEM competition for students in grades 6-9 who compete in teams for state, regional and national awards. Students' work is focused on solving community problems, and they have an opportunity to win up to $8,000 in U.S. savings bonds. Another program, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia, is for ninth through 12th grades. If students' research projects make it to the national stage, they could win up to $12,000 in college scholarships through JSHS.
"To me, it's beyond Massachusetts and Maryland," Lopez said. "What I intend to do is to get plugged into the different labs and what goes on in local STEM and how that plays into AEOP missions."
The summit placed an emphasis on collaboration. A quick scan around the large conference room revealed hundreds of business leaders, educators and politicians working together toward a common goal.
"I still think there's a lot of work to do in terms of transitioning all of this into a classroom," said Bulger, who explained that one of the roles NSRDEC plays is to facilitate and "identify those (programs) that we can match with a teacher. I think some of the programs we heard about today will provide some opportunity. eCYBERmissions are some of those programs we try to promote, so this will help us find the right venue to promote that."
Paul Reville, Massachusetts Secretary of Education, called the event more than a summit.
''It's a movement and major collaboration," Reville said. "We're on a roll, we've got a movement, and we need to keep it going.''
As Bulger said, STEM programs are all about "bringing people together" and fostering excitement in STEM opportunities.