By Alexandra Foran, NSRDEC Public AffairsDecember 20, 2012
Employers, various local schools, and an assortment of businesses gathered at Bristol Community College December 5 to discuss and coordinate area activities and events related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) representatives Rebecca Engle and David Querim shared their organization's STEM involvement with interested listeners, highlighting the teacher training and multiple student-oriented programs NSRDEC and other Army organizations offer on a regular basis.
The Gains in the Education of Math and Science (GEMS) program at the Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) is run by the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) and it is one of the most popular student programs the base has to offer. Middle school students take a week out of their summer to learn and participate in science-related activities.
"STEM is the real future of the country in this global economy. Events like this are very important…career pathways get people interested into STEM fields and it's ideal to bring people together from a community," said John J. Sbrega, president of Bristol Community College.
When students visit Natick, known locally as "the Natick Labs", they are provided hands on opportunities to see science and technology in action, within the constraints of safety. "We make sure that the students are safe, provide them with material safety data sheets (MSDS) and have them talk to mentors," said Querim, safety engineer at NSRDEC. "We review safety hazards and make sure the students think about safety and hazards at an early age. Small things like wearing personal protective equipment for different experiments."
The Natick Labs isn't the only place that provides STEM engagement, which was the reason for the meeting at BCC. BCC itself provides STEM training and activities for a variety of people, especially in the Southeastern Massachusetts community.
"We want to pique students' interest in STEM," said Anthony Ucci, Associate Dean of Mathematics, Sciences and Engineering. "At BCC we encourage service learning and civic engagement.
Given our history we've found that we're far better off reaching students by educating educators. We offer professional development activities, workshops, and other resources to not only teachers but also K-12 students and undergraduates."
Different school districts provided short presentations about their school communities' collaboration with their local communities. Of the three that presented their ongoing plans regarding STEM education, it was unanimous that community support from businesses and government officials makes quite an impact not only on teaching resources but especially on students.
The Ocean Explorium is just one example of a local business that decided to help out their local school district; they provide engaging activities for students who visit the center. A large part " of students' learning happens outside of the classroom," said Annette Brickley, Education Manager at the Ocean Explorium. "We take things that students learn in the classroom and offer a hands-on activity to get them engaged. The goal for all of us is to support the great things happening in the classroom."
"STEM opens up their mind to think about science and future careers," said Querim. "It's certainly a win-win because they have an interest and we show them what they can do and what we do; they can look to labs like Natick as a future employer."
Meetings like the one held at BCC are offered to allow schools to work together with business, industry, educators, government, and the community at large in order to promote and perpetuate STEM education.