- Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 18:21
- Published on Tuesday, 25 October 2011 18:21
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The acronym equates to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and from STEM is the hope of a future tree of knowledge for the greater Fredericksburg area high schools.
King George High School will be among that hoped-for orchard of STEM schools, and should have an advantage of drawing from a pool of science and technological talent from the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren. As well, the new distance learning facility of the University of Mary Washington and associated colleges and universities
located at the new Dahlgren campus, which opens in January, should help add vital growth to STEM students.
Last Friday the Annual First STEM Summit was held at Fredericksburg’s Old Silk Mill to focus attention on STEM.
Sponsored by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and FREDTECH, the summit featured STEM projects from students as diverse as different applications for robotics to special uses of photography and math. Schools represented included King George High School, Spotsylvania Middle and High Schools, Ni River Middle and High Schools, Fredericksburg Christian School, James Monroe High School, and Stafford Middle and High Schools.
Capt. Hiedemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, a former NASA astronaut and the current commander of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division keynoted the event and told the audience about her experiences on two Shuttle missions and the need for more STEM-related jobs.
“STEM is all about getting more younger kids interested in science and math,” the Navy astronaut told the crowd of about 200 people. “I remember that I liked math as early as the third grade and so by the time I got up to middle school my counselor told me I should think about becoming an engineer. At first I thought; what, they want me to drive a train?”
Piper related finishing high school in St. Paul, Minnesota and then seeking out a Navy ROTC college scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she earned a mechanical engineering degree. From there she became a Navy deep sea diver and they applied to NASA to become an astronaut.
“Engineers are the people who make things happen,” she told the students in the audience. “It takes hard work to become one but it is worth it.”
Piper said that her career and life has been “a tremendous adventure” and showed a powerpoint presentation of her most recent venture into space, relating how difficult it was to drink liquids from a tube as well as simple tasks such as combing hair in zero gravity atmospheres.
With the end of the Shuttle missions, she said the next phase of space is to concentrate on the International Space Station with the Russian cosmonauts while waiting for NASA’s next launch vehicle expected to debut by 2015.
“Sometime in the future after that, perhaps in another 10 years, we may begin to plan the missions to Mars,” she said.
Also speaking at the event was Ed Sullivan, Trade and Industry Specialist for Virginia’s Department of Education.
Sullivan, who hails from Stafford County and was once Virginia’s ‘Educator of the Year,’ as well as a Stafford School Board member told the audience that STEM is currently the hottest ticket in Virginia’s educational system that means immediate entry into jobs for students.
“In business today STEM is everything,” he said.
“It is good to report that STEM academies are growing. Stafford was one of the first of these academies and I am pleased to report that there are seven more seeking to be new STEM academies in the (greater Fredericksburg area).”
Reportedly, King George High School will be one of these new academies.
King George High School principal Cliff Conway said that he sent “a couple of teachers” to the summit to explore but did not elaborate beyond what is being planned at the school.
The summit speaking portion was wrapped up by Brad Repp, Vice President and General Manager of HDT Global. Repp spoke about STEM achievements from a business perspective and began his remarks with a vignette from the Harry Potter books about the invisible cloak. He noted that engineers are in fact working on such invisibility principles today in metamaterials physics labs and, indeed, such is the case right at NSWC Dahlgren as well as other defense laboratories.
“It may turn out not so far fetched an idea,” Repp said of the fiction account from the Harry Potter books to illustrate how STEM is changing the world.
“The coming high dollar jobs will be in STEM-related activities,” he said. “Companies that embrace the future will want STEM backgrounds…the sooner we can get students involved the quicker we reach that future.”
Despite the good turnout, there was a bit of criticism about the lack of participation from area educators and civic leaders.
One person from Stafford County wrote the following on a followup blog about the STEM summit:
“Lack of Action Speaks Millions...
Not a single Stafford County Board of Supervisor Member or candidate other than myself was their (sic) to support our school kids and to hear an incredible American, Captain Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, Space Shuttle astronaut and current Commander of the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, delivered an inspriring (sic) keynote address. The school kids asked great questions and lined up for her autograph.
Education is an economic incentive. Being so close to our Nations capital and the USMC we need to support STEM education.
Why? The worlds fastest supercomputer is not in the US but at the Chinese National Defense University. Last week the Minister of Education in India announced the distribution of a $50 iPAD type touchpad computer to every child.”
As well, there were no school board members or local political leaders from King George County either in attendance.