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Local STEM consortium begins with meeting of the minds

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Attention students: Science, technology, engineering and math are the future.

The North Country STEM Learning Hub — just one part of the Empire State learning network — met Friday with businesses and educators at the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services to collaborate in an effort to make tough science and math courses fun again.

“Our real goal is to keep kids engaged in math and science as they get older,” said Mary Margaret M. Small, STEM Learning Network coordinator at Clarkson University, Potsdam. “We don’t want kids to have missed opportunities because they made uninformed decisions at the high school level.”

She said students stop taking these courses because math and science get more difficult in high school and students are easily bored.

The North Country STEM Learning Hub began a year ago and is headed by Clarkson. Because of the sheer size of Northern New York, however, the hub is broken down in several sub-hubs. Friday was the first time the Jefferson-Lewis hub met to promote STEM-based education.

“It’s hard to get everyone up to Clarkson, because it really takes the whole day, and it’s hard on individuals,” Mrs. Small said.

Speakers at the meeting included Siemens Corp. representative Steven V. Heaslip and Jim King, partner at King & King Architects, Syracuse.

Mr. Heaslip urged businesses and schools to make their STEM-based needs known to the community.

“I’m involved because I was asked,” he said. “We provided some financial support to the schools, but we really provided people in the classrooms.”

Having people who have STEM-based occupations visit the classroom is one of the best ways to have students see the relevance of taking calculus or microbiology, according to Mrs. Small. Mr. King agreed, saying in a story about his son that relevance is everything.

“Education is not 8 to 3,” he said. “Education is 24-7, 365. In order for students to apply the knowledge, they need to see the relevance of it.”

One of the meeting participants, Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr., said the local STEM hub has potential.

“I think there’s an awful lot in there to digest,” he said. “We have a number of different districts implementing different aspects in STEM education,”

However, he said, it is not a constant point in education yet.

“Working in teams, collaboration, divergent thinking — these are skills that districts should be incorporating today,” Mr. Boak said.

Those are among the necessary skills needed in today’s STEM fields, according to a video clip shown at the meeting.

Thomas J. Finch, Jefferson Community College vice president of academic affairs, said this is only the beginning of a long conversation for the Jefferson-Lewis sub-hub.

“It was really more about information,” he said. “I think it’s a worthwhile venture. It’s great for the educational institutions and great for the businesses.”

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