Leaders unified to bring bright students to STEM education, careers at MTSU summit

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Eric Batten, left, who works in grant partnerships with Texas Instruments, explains to Maxine Dawson of Cannon County High School in Woodbury, Tenn., about some of the technology involved with the remote-controlled robot on the display table at the recent TI-sponsored Leadership Summit at MTSU. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

STEM educators and industry leaders paint a bright future -- job- and salary-wise -- for the coming generation of students wanting to consider and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

About 40 educators and professionals came to Middle Tennessee State University recently for the Texas Instruments-sponsored Leadership Summit in the Ingram Building's MT Center.

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From a five-hour session -- featuring a keynote, two presentations, panel discussion, a networking luncheon and a closing regional STEM initiatives discussion -- virtually everyone left the "Building the STEM Bridge ... From K-12 to Higher Ed to Careers" summit unified with a desire to collaborate, grow, promote and recruit bright, young minds into these fields.

Educators came from across the Midstate, from elementary through university, to attend the summit.

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"We need to engage and energize students and encourage creativity and excitement," said Kanika Carver, strategic alliance director with Texas Instruments.

Tammy Jones, an adjunct professor in the MTSU Department of Mathematical Sciences, said STEM educators are "preparing students for jobs that do not exist. We need to teach so they can better adapt."

"We're hoping to lay the foundation for some opportunities," Jones added, referring to the Tennessee STEM Education Center, which is now led by Director Greg Rushton, who was a TI Leadership Summit panelist and session facilitator. "We need to expand STEM awareness opportunities, community interaction and support and bring in more students on campus."

Rushton said there's no way to "get away from the integration of technology and science in our culture and society."

"Even if you are not going to work in that space (STEM) directly, you're going to be influenced by it," he added. "You're going to be interacting with it as a citizen. "I think workforce development is one piece of it."

"How many fields are always changing, solving new problems all the time, engaging multiple communities, multiple cultures, multiple points of view?" Rushton asked. "It's a very exciting field to be a part of. I'm glad to be a part of the conversation. It's going to touch every one of us in one way or another."

Maxine Dawson, a math and physics teacher at Cannon County High School in Woodbury, Tennessee, wants to develop the STEM program for the next generation by "putting it in sixth-grade students' hands."

"It's rural (Cannon County) and it costs money," Dawson said of the investment. "We have a new administration and they are sensitive to that. ... We have several kids interested in robotics, they are learning coding after school and this will give them options."

Dawson, Tommy Gossett of Ashland City, Tennessee, and Cheatham County Schools, and Jennifer Berry, director of STEAM (incorporating the arts) and science with Metro Nashville Public Schools, were among others observing some high-tech Texas Instruments gadgets, gizmos and robotics at the project-based learning STEM tables between sessions.

Vince O'Connell, director of school partnerships with Texas Instruments, said from his company's perspective "the biggest thing we see working with schools and districts is making sure that each of the components of STEM has an equal footing. It's important that math, engineering, technology and science work together for the ability to transition and to make students work through that in a real life and real world situation."

O'Connell said Texas Instruments is "very excited about the opportunities. There's a huge gap in having students be available to support all of this growth in STEM. As a company, it's important universities like Middle Tennessee State are developing thought leaders along with students that can come and perform in the workplace."

Keynote speaker Alfred Hall, University of Memphis assistant dean in the College of Education, discussed emerging trends in STEM to help guide the way. He shared framework goal students should have by the 12th grade.

"K-12 science education in the U.S. fails to achieve these outcomes, in part because it is not organized systemically across multiple years of school, emphasizes discrete facts with a focus on breadth over depth and does not provide students with engaging opportunities to experience how science is actually done," he said. "The framework is designed to directly address and overcome these weaknesses."

Hall moderated the "Closing the Gaps in STEM from Education to Careers" panel that included Rushton, Scott Eddins with the Tennessee Department of Education and Maria Danielle Garrett, assistant professor in chemistry at Belmont University.

Because of a successful College of Basic and Applied Sciences summer workshop Texas Instruments representatives led, the Nov. 9 summit was TI's first such higher education-focused meeting to start a new networking program at MTSU that they hope to replicate in other states, said math professor Mary Martin.

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