Amazon Donates 24 Kindle Fire Devices To STEM Training Program For Tennessee Teachers

A group of 24 STEM Teaching fellows from five counties across Tennessee, gathered for their monthly training session on Tuesday, and received a big surprise—each teacher was given a Kindle Fire device from Amazon to help aid with instruction in the classroom.

These STEM Teaching Fellows are a cohort of educators from around the region participating in a year-long training program focused on expanding science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction. The staff at the STEM Innovation Hub works closely with these teachers both in periodic group sessions and at their home schools. “This program aims to increase students’ interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by giving educators new skills and resources to use in their classrooms,” said Keri Randolph, director of Learning at the STEM Innovation Hub. “We want to see teachers consistently using technology and hands-on learning to show students how the concepts they learn in the classroom translate to the real world.”

STEM Innovation Hub leaders acknowledge the importance of these business and community partnerships in education. “The support of Amazon and other committed community partners is a driving force in our region’s STEM initiative,” said Tracey Carisch, managing director of the STEM Innovation Hub. “They provide resources and financial supports, as well as a look at the career opportunities awaiting our students in the future.”

Throughout the coming year, the STEM Teaching Fellows will learn from industry professionals and partner with local organizations as they bring new STEM resources into their schools. “This program helps connect our teachers to the STEM workforce our students will one day be a part of,” said Rick Smith, superintendent of Hamilton County Department of Education. STEM Teaching Fellows is one the programs organized by the new Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, a regional support center for STEM partnerships, resources and educator training housed within PEF. 

To learn more about the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub visit


TSU, Boeing team on workforce challenges

A close connection between academia and industry is helping Tennessee State University solve workforce development challenges.

In Tennessee and nationally, a constant theme has been heard among those concerned with workforce development. Our students are not graduating with the skills they need for the jobs that are available.

One of the biggest barriers stems from an inability to efficiently connect and work with academic partners. Perhaps this is seen most prominently where STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the United States lags behind that of most developed countries.

Many business schools, capitalizing on a historically close connection with industry, have developed a model that targets gaps in our workforce directly.

For instance, TSU’s supply chain management (SCM) program in the College of Business has put together a strong faculty, backed by a board of directors of industry executives. Industry executives engage with the faculty, staff and students to provide internship and employment opportunities, guest lecturers, financial resources, consultation and perhaps most importantly, critical input on the curriculum.

Every 18 months, a joint committee of faculty and SCM Governing Board members reviews the curriculum to ensure the program is meeting industry needs. Based on the reviews, the curriculum has been expanded to include instruction on lean manufacturing, six-sigma, lean operations and quantitative analysis, and leadership. As a result, students are equipped with much-needed logistics and supply-chain management skills. And it is working. For the 2011-2012 academic year, 84 percent of TSU’s program graduates were either employed at graduation or secured employment in the field within three months.

One example of the evolving educational and industry partnerships is the relationship between TSU and aerospace giant The Boeing Co. Boeing works closely with more than 150 colleges and universities to enhance undergraduate curricula, support continuing education of our employees, recruit for internships and employment and collaborate on research that benefits the long-term needs of our businesses.

Nearly seven years ago, Boeing included TSU’s Supply Chain Management Program in its college recruiting plans. TSU was added as the result of the company’s search and review of U.S. business schools that had supply-chain curriculum in addition to business management. We reviewed internal hiring trends and retention data, considered diversity and regional aspects of the universities to Boeing’s employment locations, and matched this to our future supply chain management hiring needs.

Based on this research, a list of 17 SCM recruiting universities was developed that included TSU’s program. Since then, Boeing has worked with the school to ensure its program and activities keep pace with industry needs in the 21st century.

In just a few days, the program will host its second Supply Chain Summit at TSU’s Avon Williams downtown campus. The focus this year is on risk management. Among other speakers, William Teas, executive director of corporate risk management for Gaylord Entertainment, will present a case study and lead a discussion on how the company dealt with and recovered from the flood of 2010; and Leigh Ann Baird, vice president of strategic planning for Ingram Barge, will speak on the impact of this year’s drought on her company.

Throughout the summit, educators and industry leaders will keep an eye on what’s needed and what’s being done to prepare tomorrow’s supply chain workforce. The summit will provide a platform for industry leaders to share expertise on the challenges and opportunities in supply chain as well as equip future supply chain leaders with proven industry solutions.

Many industries struggle to connect with academia in a way that has a significant impact on workforce development. With the support of corporations like Boeing, Dell, Wal-Mart, Lexmark, HCA, Corning, Genco and others, TSU graduates will be prepared for the high-quality jobs that await them.




STEM Academy dedicates new facilities in Memphis

Half-built robots were strewn across one table, balsa wood bridges across another. Upstairs, a 3D printer about the size of an extra large arcade game etched out a scale model of the human hand as a 2-foot-tall robot moved and spoke to a group of onlookers filming it with their smartphones and tablets.

October 30 marked the official dedication of the new STEM Academy facilities — which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — at East High School, where 150 students from 20 MCS high schools complete some of the most advanced coursework available to high school students in the country.

"We're very proud of the facility you're about to see today," said East High Principal Eric Harris. "I promise you, you will be amazed."

Following the ribbon cutting, a group of about a hundred parents, students and local officials toured the two-story building — which was originally the school's auto shop — taking in its state-of-the-art workstations, computer labs, and interactive white boards along with engineering and design equipment whose operation would easily baffle the average adult.

The $950,000 program, funded by the federal Race to the Top grant money, includes online coursework that students complete throughout the week as well as weekly laboratory assignments at the new facility, where students can design and construct anything from model cars to artificial limbs.

STEM Academy officially began last February, with 50 students from eight local high schools, despite the lack of a facility

Northeast Regional Supt. Kevin McCarthy compared the academy's earliest phases to "putting tires on the bus as the bus was rolling."

Despite their lack of a finished workspace, there were "students and families who took the leap of faith with us," McCarthy said. "They believed we would do what we said we were going to do and that ultimately we'd be standing here, at a state-of-the-art facility."

McCarthy pointed out that Memphis' STEM Academy differs from similar programs throughout the country in that it does not take the form of a single magnet school, but instead allows students from many different schools the opportunity to excel.

Nizar Khalil said his 15-year-old son Mohameed, 15, spent most of last summer doing STEM coursework as well as many evenings and even some Saturdays during the school year.

"Anything we can do to advance him into the future and into a good college, it's worth it," Khalil said.




The Tennessee Charter School Incubator seeks to close Education Achievement Gap

As the first statewide charter school incubator in the country, the Tennessee Charter School Incubator was launched with one purpose: to close the education achievement gap in Tennessee by supporting the creation of high-quality, public charter schools in Memphis and Nashville.  The Tennessee Charter School Incubator dedicates itself to training leaders to develop high-performing charter schools that serve as statewide and national models of education reform. We provide financial and professional resources to proven leaders who are willing to take on the greatest challenges within our education system. TCSI has developed its Educational Entrepreneurs Fellowship to provide unprecedented training, incubation and early-launch support to experienced leaders looking to take on education reform’s next big challenge: transforming low-performing traditional district schools into high-quality charter schools.

The Education Entrepreneurs Fellowship

The Tennessee Charter School Incubator (TCSI) seeks experienced school leaders to transform Tennessee’s lowest performing schools into high-performing, college-preparatory charter schools and management organizations.  Schools targeted for turnaround are part of Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD), a statewide district composed of schools in the bottom 5%.  The mission of the ASD and its leader, Chris Barbic, is to move schools from the State’s bottom 5% to its top 25% in five years.

This is a challenge unlike any other charter school effort in the country. Instead of seeking out a facility and an audience, fellows will be matched with an existing public school that has been placed in the ASD.  Fellows will have the unique task of transforming their matched schools into environments that foster success. To make that change a reality, TCSI provides transformational leadership training, unprecedented resources and top-to-bottom services to give our Education Entrepreneurs Fellows the tools and support they need to be successful.

The Education Entrepreneurs Fellowship is a two-year leadership development program designed to equip experienced school leaders with the entrepreneurial and transformational management skills needed to replace some of the state’s lowest performing traditional district schools with high-performing charter schools and charter management organizations.  This paid, competency-based fellowship is personalized to address each fellow’s needs for development and enrichment through targeted training, residencies/site visits, and executive coaching.  Once operational, school leaders continue to receive early launch support including coaching, subsidized interim assessments aligned to state tests, and school quality reviews.

Education Entrepreneurs Fellows receive

- Intensive training and executive coaching from the country’s most highly-regarded education leaders and providers;

- Opportunities to attend sessions across the country to study best practices and innovations;

- Intensive residencies tailored to the goals of the fellow

- Accountability measures to help determine timelines, goals and necessary resources; and

- Guidance in navigating local government requirements for final approval.


The Education Entrepreneurs Fellowship gives education leaders the chance to create a new legacy that will echo across the country. The resulting portfolio district will create a national model for transformational education reform – and you will be at the forefront of the movement.

For a more detailed job description or if you are ready to take that next step, click Apply now.  Or find out more about why Tennessee is the leader in national education reform – and how you can be part of the movement.




AREA203 Digital Invests in Chattanooga’s Future With $100,000 Gift to Local STEM School

AREA203 Digital presented a $100,000 check to the students and faculty of the Hamilton County STEM School at its Grand Opening celebration today. AREA203 has partnered with Hamilton County Schools on these initiatives as part of the company’s mission to support the continued growth of Chattanooga’s digital economy. The school’s lobby will be named in honor of local-entrepreneur and AREA203 founder, Carey V. Brown. Beginning with 75 freshman students this year, the school aims to enroll 300 students by 2017.

“We are investing in Chattanooga’s children because they are our community’s future leaders and innovators. Ensuring Chattanooga has the best and the brightest means growing and nurturing them right here at home,” said Doug Freeman, president, AREA203 Digital. “We are a company built on technology, math and science. We believe in fostering those skills and interests in the next generation.”

“With this donation, AREA203 has set an example for what it means to be a strong community leader,” said Tennessee Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey. “I hope other businesses across the state follow AREA203’s lead and take a vested interest in the future of Tennessee’s youth.”

“Chattanooga businesses need employees who are highly educated and trained to compete in the technology sector,” said Ron Harr, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce CEO. “AREA203’s gift will help Chattanooga build a talent pipeline for businesses, locally and across the state.”

“Through an innovative curriculum and partnerships with companies like AREA203, we are providing students with the education they need to succeed in the digital economy,” said Rick Smith, Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. “We teach these students science and math today so that tomorrow they can create the next cutting edge technology to keep America competitive in the world economy.”



SunTrust Foundation Invests In STEM Education In Hamilton County

SunTrust officials presented a gift of $25,000 to the Hamilton County STEM School. 

“We know that the understanding of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills are crucial to success in the global economy,” said Michael Butler, president of SunTrust Eastern Tennessee. “Inherent in those four disciplines is the importance of knowing how to solve problems creatively, both as an individual and as part of a team.  The SunTrust Foundation is proud to partner with the STEM school as they develop this set of skills in our community’s students.”

Rick Smith, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, said that the investment from the SunTrust Foundation will benefit students and prepare them for the future.  “Our district is focused on improving and innovating STEM education,” Mr. Smith said.  “The SunTrust Foundation’s investment in the new STEM high school shows their commitment to helping our young people prepare for the dynamic and challenging world ahead.”

“When you visit our school, you might be surprised to see students watching videos on their iPads or working together on a project – and only after looking carefully, spot an instructor.  Our students work collaboratively with their teachers to solve problems, rather than just receiving information from a book or a lecture.  School looks a bit different here than it used to, but then again, so do most workplaces!” says Dr. Tony Donen, STEM school principal.  “Our students, faculty and staff are deeply appreciative of the SunTrust Foundation’s investment.”

Opened in August, the new STEM high school will serve as a demonstration site for innovative practices in STEM education and eventually serve 300 students as it grows each year from the inaugural freshman class.  The curriculum is focused on problem- and project-based learning, using technology and collaboration to engage students in identifying solutions to relevant and engaging problems in our world.



Astronaut touts benefits of teaching kids to dream

Dreams are the gateway to the future. Just ask former NASA astronaut Bernard Harris who spoke September 21 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Harris, who flew on the space shuttles Columbia and Discovery and is the first African-American to walk in space, is an advocate of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education.


He spoke Friday about preparing America’s future — its children and youth, and in particular his partnership with the Boy Scouts of America — for the education challenges of the 21st century.


The physician, astronaut and venture capitalist said he’s had two missions in life:


“The first was an extraterrestrial one,” Harris said, of his time as an astronaut.


“And for that, I feel like I have a responsibility to give back during the terrestrial mission.”


Many of today’s children and youth, according to Harris, “have lost the ability to dream.”


“And for that, I feel like I have a responsibility to give back during the terrestrial mission.”


Many of today’s children and youth, according to Harris, “have lost the ability to dream.” And, in order to have a better future as individuals and as a country, Harris said, “it’s important we instill in young people how important dreams are.”


As a child, Harris said, he was inspired by the Apollo space mission and by stories of science fiction.


“Bones was the first guy I saw practicing space medicine,” Harris said, of the character who played the role of a physician on television’s original “Star Trek” series.


By 1990, Harris said he had been accepted into the NASA Astronaut Corps. What followed was two years of intense study and training. He took his first space flight in 1993 aboard Columbia.


“The space shuttle is an incredible vehicle,” Harris said. “When those engines light, you are catapulted off the planet in a big hurry.” Showing images of the space shuttle on screens behind him, Harris recalled the two space shuttle launches he participated in.


“You reach the ultimate speed of 17,500 mph. There’s a sunrise and sunset every 45 minutes,” he said, going on to explain how the space shuttles flew in space — upside down to the Earth — the suits astronauts wore during launch, space walks and re-entry; and what life is like in space.


His career with NASA spanned 19 years.


“I’ve had a wonderful career, and it was all enabled through education,” Harris said.


But, Harris explained, “there’s a problem with education. It’s not emphasizing the right things in our school systems.”


Many educators are teaching the required material “but not connecting the dots” to show their students the relevancy of STEM education to everyday activities, he said.


STEM education is important to the future, Harris said, because studies have projected that by 2018, 17 percent of jobs will require such educational backgrounds.


“Everything we do has international implications, and to be competitive, our students must be proficient in math and science,” he said.


The Harris Foundation, a nonprofit organization Harris founded in 1998, partners with other organizations to expand the reach of STEM education and improve the future for millions of youth.


In particular, Harris works with the Boy Scouts of America and its new NOVA program to encourage Boy Scouts to explore the basic principles of STEM and earn recognition for their efforts.


“This will enable young kids to look into the future,” he said of STEM education.




MTSU STEM conference creates career options for 400-plus girls

At least one high school student — and there likely were many others — adding a potential career path to her list of choices during the 16th annual Expanding Your Horizons in Math and Science Conference Saturday at MTSU.

Attending the conference for the third year, Central Magnate School 10th-grader Audrey Darnbush said she now is adding astronomy to the mix along with possibly becoming a middle school history teacher after graduating from college.

“After today, I will consider a career in astronomy because we saw the planetarium,” said Darnbush, referring to the 16-foot by 10-foot portable dome brought by the Arnold Air Force Base STEM Center. When being asked about what her career choices are, Darnbush was standing next to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Patrol — a veterinary science option.

“It happens all the time,” conference Director Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross said of all the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workshop opportunities the middle school and high school girls have at Expanding Your Horizons.

“Girls change their minds,” Iriarte-Gross added. “Most of our college students change their minds, too. It’s just part of growing up.”

Expanding Your Horizons is a hands-on science and math conference to help girls investigate careers in the STEM fields; to talk with women in these careers; to attend math and science workshops for girls; and meet other girls interested in science and math.

Including girls from Memphis and several school groups from Chattanooga, more than 400 girls attended and nearly 200 volunteers supported the event, which is simply called EYH by local, state and national organizers. It amounted to ordering 145 pizzas, between 500 and 600 drinks and hundreds of cookies consumed by attendees.

La Vergne High School senior Jaelyn Todd attended EYH for the first time. She was fortunate to spend four weeks with event keynote speaker Jennifer Hill at Nissan North America’s summer enrichment program.


“It helped me realize what I want to do and follow my path,” said Todd, who is considering MTSU, Tennessee Tech and the University of the South as college options for a potential engineering career.

Hill, manager of process control engineering at Nissan and a former Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators cheerleader, provided an energetic and inspiring talk built around LOL — not just laugh out loud but Live Out Loud.

“Never give up on your dreams,” Hill said. “Find your passion, your niche. You are on a path toward success.”

“Jennifer’s amazing,” Iriarte-Gross said. “She was thanking me for the opportunity (to speak). I said, ‘No. We ought to thank you (for speaking).”

Hannah Lannom, 13, a seventh-grader at Girls Preparatory School, was among a contingent of Chattanooga students attending.

“I like how you can experience how things work and how they take into consideration girls in engineering — not just boys,” Lannom said while attending the Schneider Electric-led “Electrifying Fun with Circuits” workshop in Davis Science Building.

Dr. Rich Rhoda, Tennessee Higher Education Commission executive director, was an invited guest and spoke briefly to the girls. He noted how much fun they were having.

“This is very important,” Rhoda said of EYH. “It will be interesting to track how many of these girls wind up at MTSU or any university in the STEM fields. It definitely makes an impression on them.”

First-year MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer also spoke briefly. He drew a loud round of applause when he told the students MTSU’s new science building would arrive in time (spring 2015) when some of them will be entering college.

To learn about the 2013 EYH conference, visit




Tennessee study shows associate's degree can pay off

CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Students with associate’s degrees, in many cases, have higher first-year earnings than students with bachelor’s degrees, according to a Tennessee research study.

“The Earning Power of Graduates From Tennessee’s Colleges and Universities,” research study conducted by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and College Measures compares the average first-year earnings of recent graduates from two-year and four-year institutions across Tennessee and explores the variation in earnings for graduates from individual degree programs at individual colleges.

The study concludes that graduates with bachelor’s degrees in health, business and engineering earn more than graduates with liberal arts degrees. It also concluded that the average first-year earnings of associate’s degree graduates were over $1,000 more than the average first-year earnings of bachelor’s degree graduates, but there was wide variation at the program level.

Austin Peay State University was a part of the study, which showed that 79 graduates from Austin Peay State University with a degree in engineering technology or other engineering-related fields made an average of $52,367 in their first-year earnings – the lowest wage out of the eight universities with engineering data.

By comparison, 1,508 graduates from the University of Tennessee earned an average of $54,967 in engineering fields, University of Memphis graduates made $55,728 in engineering fields and the 263 engineering graduates at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga earned $56,504.

The study said the data was limited to workers within the state, and the earnings of graduates who took jobs outside Tennessee state do not appear in the data.

Bill Persinger, executive director for Public Relations and Marketing at APSU, said the university’s low ranking in engineering wages is because of location.

“It is likely due to the region,” Persinger said. “If you go to school here and work in the region, the pay scale is not as high. It also depends on the industry in the region. ... You will always have programs that tend to pay more. There are greater needs and risk in some fields.”

Philosophy ranks low

The lowest-earning field at APSU was philosophy and religious studies, which averaged $20,458 in first-year earnings. The University of Tennessee-Martin also named philosophy and religious studies as the lowest earnings at $27,094.

In the average first-year earnings among all bachelor’s degree recipients, APSU fell in the middle, with graduates earning an average of $36,783 per year, about $475 below the average.

Health/business ranks high

The three most popular bachelor’s degree programs are multi/interdisciplinary studies, business management and marketing and health professions.

At APSU, multidisciplinary studies majors made an average of $35,000 in their first-year earnings, business management and marketing grads earned between $30,000 and $34,000, and health professions earned about between $45,000 and $48,000.

In comparison, graduates who attend University of Memphis earned between $35,000 and $40,000 in interdisciplinary studies, between $40,000 and $45,000 for business management and marketing and between $55,000 and $60,000 in the health profession field.

The study also collected data from community college graduates and found that graduates in some fields such as health, construction and technology can make more money in their first-year earnings than those who obtained bachelor’s degrees in other areas.

“I think the main thing is there is going to be different pay scales in various economic regions throughout the state,” Persinger said.

“You can get your degree here and go to New York City, where you will probably make more money, but the cost of living is much greater. There’s a lot of factors in all that.

“In general, it’s never a bad thing to have a well-educated community.”



State can ‘lead the nation’ in STEM knowledge

Educators, legislators and professionals in the fields of aerospace, defense and government convened at AEDC and UTSI this past week to lay the groundwork for America’s scientific and technological future.

The focus of the two-day conference was education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, known collectively as STEM.

The conference took a far-reaching approach to the subject, with workshops examining not only what can be done to pique the interest in STEM-related fields among students of all ages, but also how to ensure those students have qualified and effective instructors and what employers can offer to attract the best and the brightest.

By all accounts the event, sponsored by the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA) and the National Defense Industry Association (NDIA), was a resounding success.

Susan C. Lavrakas, director of workforce for AIA, said interest in attending the conference exceeded the facility’s capacity to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate. She said those who were able to attend were, “totally engaged for two days,” and emerged with a robust action plan.

While organizations like the AIA and NDIA share the same interest as the rest of the nation does in ensuring that America has the knowledge base to continue to innovate in STEM-related fields, they are also searching for a solution to an immediate problem – a lack of qualified candidates for engineering and science job openings.

“Our industry already has a shortage of candidates for job openings,” Lavrakas said, “and it’s only going to get more challenging as the baby boomers retire… There’s a mismatch between the educational offerings and the degrees being awarded and the actual real-world opportunities. ”

The push for STEM education in the Volunteer State gained steam in 2010, when Tennessee was awarded $510 million in federal Race to the Top grant funding, $14.7 million of which was used to set up the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN). The network is on track to establish six platform schools and six hubs scattered throughout the state.

“The platform schools are where they’re developing new models for education,” said TSIN Director of Communication Luke Duncan. “They’re investigating STEM education best practices and being supported by the hubs.”

In essence, Duncan said, the platform schools operate like educational laboratories, where the most successful and effective STEM programs and practices are determined, and the hubs oversee disseminating those tested methods to schools throughout the state. In addition to spreading the word about what is working in the platform schools, the hubs are also working to get companies and the community at large to share their knowledge and experience with students.

“We want to get companies to interact with students to tell us what they need,” Duncan said. “Workforce development is a big part of STEM and we want their expertise. We want students learning from aeronautical engineers, not just teachers.”

The six platform schools are non-selective public schools, meaning students who are not chosen based on test scores. In the event there is a waiting list — which is the case for several of the schools, according to Duncan – open seats are filled by lottery.

“We’re trying to make the dream of a STEM career available to all students, not just those who score highly on tests,” he said. “Our motto is STEM for all. This has an impact on all our lives and it makes sense to make these opportunities available to all students no matter where they come from.”

The conference wrapped on Thursday afternoon with a luncheon featuring a speech by Dr. Kathleen Airhart, the state’s deputy commissioner of education.

In her remarks, Airhart recounted her experiences with STEM during her tenure as a director of schools in Putnam County as well as in her current position, and said the department’s vision is for Tennessee to lead the nation in STEM knowledge.

“I honestly believe the answers to Tennessee’s problems are in Tennessee,” Airhart said. “… Locally the most important thing is to engage in conversation.”

AEDC is taking an active role in that conversation, and has sponsored six teams in this year’s For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Lego League.

The complex will deepen its commitment to STEM education in coming weeks with the opening of its own STEM center.

Jere Matty, AEDC’s STEM educational outreach specialist, said the center will have the capacity and equipment to serve groups of 25 to 35 students or teachers at a time.

Although the focus on STEM education is still a relatively new phenomenon, Lavrakas said the conferences being held all over the country are beginning to produce results.

“It’s anecdotal at this point, we do see pockets of success,” she said. “The purpose of these meetings is to let everyone know what’s working and to expand on that. I’m hopeful and optimistic that they (conference attendees) will take action and be successful.”

More information on the efforts to expand STEM education across the state can be found on the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network’s website,



Jim Cooper (D-TN): It’s time to get serious about science

The champion of mocking science was the late William Proxmire, whose Golden Fleece Awards enlivened dull Senate floor proceedings from 1975 until 1988. His monthly awards became a staple of news coverage. He generated good laughs back home by talking about a “wacko” in a lab coat experimenting with something seemingly stupid. Proxmire did not invent the mad-scientist stereotype, but he did much to popularize it.

The United States may now risk falling behind in scientific discoveries as other countries increase their science funding. We need to get serious about science. In fact, maybe it’s time for researchers to fight back, to return a comeback for every punch line.

Toward that end, we are announcing this week the winners of the first Golden Goose Awards, which recognize the often-surprising benefits of science to society. Charles H. Townes, for example, is hailed as a primary architect of laser technology. Early in his career, though, he was reportedly warned not to waste resources on an obscure technique for amplifying radiation waves into an intense, continuous stream. In 1964, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Nikolay Basov and Alexander Prokhorov.

Similarly, research on jellyfish nervous systems by Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien unexpectedly led to advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, increased understanding of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and improved detection of poisons in drinking water. In 2008, the trio received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this initially silly-seeming research. Four other Golden Goose Award winners — the late Jon Weber as well as Eugene White, Rodney White and Della Roy — developed special ceramics based on coral’s microstructure that is now used in bone grafts and prosthetic eyes.

Across society, we don’t have to look far for examples of basic research that paid off. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then a National Science Foundation fellow, did not intend to invent the Google search engine. Originally, they were intrigued by a mathematical challenge, so they developed an algorithm to rank Web pages. Today, Google is one of the world’s most highly valued brands, employing more than 30,000 people.

It is human nature to chuckle at a study titled “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig,” yet this research led to a treatment for hearing loss in infants. Similar examples abound. Transformative technologies such as the Internet, fiber optics, the Global Positioning System, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer touch-screens and lithium-ion batteries were all products of federally funded research.

Yes, “the sex life of the screwworm” sounds funny. But a $250,000 study of this pest, which is lethal to livestock, has, over time, saved the U.S. cattle industry more than $20 billion. Remember: The United States itself is the product of serendipity: Columbus’s voyage was government-funded. Remember, too, that basic science, the seed corn of innovation, is primarily supported by the federal government — not industry, which is typically more interested in applied research and development.

While some policymakers continue to mock these kinds of efforts, researchers have remained focused on improving our quality of life. Scientific know-how, the engine of American prosperity, is especially critical amid intense budgetary pressures. Federal investments in R&D have fueled half of the nation’s economic growth since World War II. This is why a bipartisan team of U.S. lawmakers joined a coalition of science, business and education leaders to launch the Golden Goose Awards.

Federal support for basic science is at risk: We are already investing a smaller share of our economy in science as compared with seven other countries, including Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Since 1999, the United States has increased R&D funding, as a percentage of the economy, by 10 percent. Over the same period, the share of R&D in the economies of Finland, Germany and Israel have grown about twice as fast. In Taiwan, it has grown five times as fast; in South Korea, six times as fast; in China; 10 times. In the United States, meanwhile, additional budget cuts have been proposed to R&D spending for non-defense areas. If budget-control negotiations fail, drastic across-the-board cuts will take effect in January that could decimate entire scientific fields.

Columbus thought he knew where he was going, but he didn’t know what he had found until many years later. He was searching for the Orient, but he discovered something even better: the New World.

Let’s honor our modern-day explorers. We need more of them. They deserve the last laugh.




Unum Invests Almost A Half Million Dollars In Public Education
Unum officials announced Thursday a pledge of $450,000 for public education initiatives over the next three years. Investing through Public Education Foundation to support the Principal Leadership Academy, the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) high school and mini-grants to teachers, Unum is extending a partnership with the Hamilton County Department of Education and community partners that they began five years ago.
“The quality of education in a community impacts all other aspects of the community, from the poverty rate to economic development opportunities,” said Tom White, senior vice president of Investor Relations at Unum.
“Communities that have a well-educated workforce are able to maintain and grow businesses and provide good employment opportunities for its citizens.”
Rick Smith, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, said that Unum’s investment will benefit key areas needed to impact students and prepare them for the future.  “After becoming superintendent, I knew our district needed to focus on improving and innovating STEM education,” Mr. Smith said.  “Unum’s investment in the new STEM high school, along with their support of the Principal Leadership Academy and grants to teachers, touches on the key areas that impact students – great STEM education, leadership, and investment in teachers at the classroom level.”
Opening in August, the new STEM high school will serve as a demonstration site for innovative practices in STEM education and eventually serve 300 students.  Unum employees are investing time in the STEM school and hub to help develop curriculum and connect student learning to real-world applications.  The Principal Leadership Academy – a collaboration between HCDE, the Public Education Foundation, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga -- has just accepted its third cohort of aspiring principals and will continue to benefit from Unum executives acting as mentors. 
“Corporate support of public education shows the community that companies are invested in the futures of our students.  Unum is a leader in Chattanooga not only for its financial support of our schools, but also through the thousands of volunteer hours they put into helping our students, teachers, and leaders,” said Dan Challener, president of PEF.


Blount teachers being trained to stress STEM philosophy

Blount County administrators are working this summer to rebrand education with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Dr. Alisa Teffeteller, supervisor of career and technical education, and Colleen Mattison, Heritage High School assistant principal, recently attended the inaugural Tennessee STEM Leadership Academy. They were selected by Blount County Director of Schools Rob Britt.

The three-day academy, which was presented by ORAU and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN), featured teaching tips designed specifically for STEM subjects, hands-on group energy challenges and experiments, a tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a presentation given by retired NASA astronaut Mary Ellen Weber. Teffeteller and Mattison will share STEM standards and best practices with other county employees.


STEM education is driven by problem-solving, discovery and exploratory learning. By adopting the STEM philosophy, the four subjects are taught dependently. The science, engineering and mathematics fields are heightened by the technology component, which provides a creative, innovative way to solve problems and apply their knowledge.

Both administrators were pleased with the experience.

“The STEM Leadership Academy was a much-needed experience,” Mattison said. “We’re rebranding education. As educators, we needed to make connections, build relationships and share our successes and challenges. It’s the only way programs can go from good to better.”

She also appreciated the opportunity to meet with educators from their regional STEM innovation hub. “We have a vested interest in our hub, and we’d like to correlate our program with its vision. Besides the acronym, educators don’t really have one definition for STEM. We haven’t determined what a STEM program should look like, or how we should build the curriculum.”

However, the state’s educators are paying close attention to Heritage High School.

Administrators have heard about Heritage High School’s STEM Studio, which will open this fall, Mattison said. It’s Blount County’s first STEM academy.

Educators from other school districts want to visit Heritage High School’s STEM Studio and learn about its programming, she said. When the studio opens, students can choose from two paths: engineering and health science. School officials will implement a third path, agriculture and animal systems, in the near future.

Teffeteller was most impressed with the academy’s emphasis on producing career- and college-ready students.

“As CTE director, it helped me see how current and future jobs are integrating STEM into their respective fields. We’ve got a clearer direction for our students. It’s important to start STEM education at a young age and scaffold them toward a more rigorous curriculum, ultimately building to a high school experience that will prepare them for the competitive nature of current and future jobs and help them be successful in the 21st century workplace.”

Blount County’s students are already using STEM education principles to various degrees, she said. Middle-schoolers, for example, work with robotics, build designs out of LEGOs and construct rockets.

William Blount High School is also piloting some STEM courses this year, in anticipation of full implementation next year, Teffeteller said.



ORNL contractor gives $150,000 to scouts for STEM education at Buck Toms 

Scouts at Camp Buck Toms next summer will be able to pursue the usual woodworking and archery badges. Or, they can pivot into the 21st century and go for badges in robotics, nuclear science, energy and composite materials.

The four new badges will be part of a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiative made possible by a $150,000 corporate gift from UT-Battelle, the managing contractor for the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Thom Mason, director of ORNL, toured the approximately 900-acre Camp Buck Toms on Thursday morning to present the gift to the Boy Scouts of America's Great Smoky Mountain Council, which presides over scouting throughout 21 counties in East Tennessee.

"We are very aware of the fact that not all science education happens in the classroom. You see that in things like robotics competitions, but also in scouting," said Mason. "We want to be a part of that. We think it's a great way to get kids excited about science in an environment where they're working hands-on."

Mason pointed out the importance of an education in STEM topics for every child and STEM's ability to be utilized in different settings.

"You can weave it into the things they're doing, whether it's rappelling down a wall, running down a zip line or learning about buoyancy in Watts Bar Lake."

Michael Hartman, summer camp program director at Buck Toms, is excited about the difference the money will make in the curriculum that serves over 1,500 campers each summer.

"We already teach a handful of those on the base level, but with the technology we can be given by this grant we can advance those a whole lot further," he said.

Hartman is looking forward to improving existing biology programs such as insect, fish and wildlife study by purchasing temperature probes, pH sensors and dissolved oxygen testers to be used by scouts to test water conditions.

ORNL also is partnering with scouts, allowing them access to some of their facilities so scouts can learn about nuclear science and energy from the experts.

"It's a great connection with ORNL," said Hartman. "We get to visit an accelerator which they've just built, and they'll get great access to that."

Camp Buck Toms has raised $3 million of the $4 million needed to complete a renovation project that began last year, which includes new bath houses and living structures for campers.

Larry Brown, Great Smoky Mountain Council scout executive, called Camp Buck Toms "state-of-the-art" and one of the best in the Southeast.

"We've rebuilt the infrastructure of the camp, and now what we're looking to do is add programs that will attract kids from all different parts of the country to come here and work on badges."



Teachers Engage The Region In STEM Education Discussion


In the next few weeks, 30 teachers in Hamilton County and the surrounding region are hoping to identify local businesses, non-profits, and other community resources that can help inform classroom lessons around science, technology, engineering, and math.  Led by the Public Education Foundation through the Southeast Tennessee STEM Innovation Hub, STEM Teaching Fellows are working on a comprehensive summer project requiring input from the region’s business leaders and community members.


Known as the STEM Community Asset Mapping project, the STEM Teaching Fellows will identify local resources for supporting students’ hands-on, real-world learning both inside and outside of the classroom. During the summer, teams of STEM Fellows will be holding community meetings throughout the region to bring citizens into this important conversation. These sessions will provide information on STEM and its importance to our economy and educational system.  Then the participants will discuss the ways in which STEM education can be enhanced in the local community through partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and community members.



These STEM meetings are open to the public and participation is encouraged. The following dates and locations have been set, with more STEM sessions to come later in the summer:

  • June 26 at 7 a.m. in the Signal Mountain Middle High School Theater, 2650 Sam Powell Dr.,  Signal Mountain
  • July 10 at 7 p.m. in the East Hamilton High School Theater, 2015 Ooltewah Ringgold Road  Ooltewah
  • July 11 at 5:30 p.m. on the third floor of Public Education Foundation, 100 East 10th Street, Chattanooga

For more information on the STEM Teaching Fellows Initiative and STEM education in the region, please visit or



STEM camp shows fun side to science, math

Jordan Parker at least appeared comfortable as the various "critters" crawled over her hands and arms.

The 10-year-old said that while she's seen millipede sand beetles, known as anthropods before, Monday was the first time she had ever touched one.

"They felt kind of sticky, and they tickled," said Jordan, among 50 first- through fifth-graders participating in this week's first STEM camp being held at Hardin Valley Academy. "I counted 56 legs, but I think that was wrong, and I found 18 segments."

Debbie Sayers, a chemistry teacher at Hardin Valley, said the camp's goal is to expose younger students to math and science and get them excited about it. STEM in the educational vernacular refers to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"You know if you catch them early, we can carry that interest and enthusiasm for it into the upper grades," she said.

Each day of the week has had a different focus — science, technology, engineering, math and health science. Students have done everything from inspecting beetles and millipedes to designing, building and flying hovercrafts to dissecting a sheep's eye.

Sayers said it's all in how math and science are presented.

"When it's active and it's hands-on and they get to see lots of stuff, I think that's what breeds the curiosity. Little kids are interested, they want to know how things work, they want to know about the world around them. But a lot of times when it's just sitting in a chair and they don't get to do, that kind of stifles that curiosity," she said.

"I hope when they leave they said math is cool and science is cool … and when they go back to their classrooms, I hope they take that enthusiasm in."

Thomas Knight, who will be a fifth-grader next school year, said he loves science and was excited about attending this week's camp.

"Science is just fun," the 10-year-old said.

Taylor Melgaard and Will Feldman said they thought the camp was going to be boring, but it wasn't.

And, they said, they will remember what they learned when they go to science and math class next year.

"I'm going to remember the experiments," Will said. "We'll know more when we're going into our next grade." 



Libraries reach out to STEM students

Librarians at the University of Tennessee are linking L&N STEM Academy students to some useful online resources.

The costly technologies that enable the school's innovative learning environment translate into fewer dollars for the school media center. UT librarians are stepping in to supplement the research materials available to STEM students.

A website hosted by the UT Libraries provides links to free science and technology resources. SOIL (STEM Oriented Information Literacy) is the creation of Thura Mack, UT Libraries coordinator for outreach and community learning services; Peter Fernandez, research services librarian for Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; and School of Information Sciences student Lisa Kellerman.

The librarians hope resources on SOIL will enhance skills the STEM students will need when they begin taking dual-credit courses at UT in their junior year. The site includes research tips, guides to citing sources, a tutorial on plagiarism and academic integrity, and directories to STEM internships (a planned capstone experience for L&N STEM Academy students).

The resources are available for free at



Program creates prepared teachers

VolsTeach, the University of Tennessee program that prepares math and science majors to become teachers, is being recognized for helping to solve one of the state's most vital education problems.

More than 200 students have enrolled in VolsTeach since its implementation in fall 2010. UT received a grant from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission in 2009 to establish the program. It replicates UTeach, a proven model developed by the University of Texas, Austin. VolsTeach is a partner program of the UTeach Institute. The program's mission is to address the shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers in middle and high schools.

The first class of students will graduate from UT in spring 2013.

The program, which targets undergraduate math, science and engineering majors who may be interested in teaching, is a collaboration between UT's College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. 

Students are able to earn a degree in their discipline and a secondary education teaching license within four years and at no extra cost. Students take VolsTeach as a minor.



Some Faculty Positions Filled At New STEM School At Chattanooga State


Dr. Tony Donen, principal of the new STEM school at Chattanooga State, is conducting staff interviews.  Several teaching positions have already been filled after an extensive interview process. 

These include:

Joe Evans - social studies teacher from Sale Creek High School 
Stacy Hill - math teacher from Red Bank High School, also certified in exceptional education 
Nicelle Price - art teacher from Howard High School 
Valery Taylor - science teacher from North Whitfield Middle School in Georgia, also certified in math

There are three other positions to fill at this time;  the school secretary, an English teacher, and a Lead STEM Teacher (newly created and recently posted).

Curriculum Development
The vision for how the curriculum will engage students is becoming more clear.  Dr. Donen has met initially with a small core team to plan the process for finalizing curriculum.  A curriculum advisory committee with representative from the business community is being formed.  Some key concepts to the curriculum include:


Learning will take place in Collaborative Teams - both teacher teams and student teams.

Collaborative Team Focus - creating, designing, and implementing problem based learning and project based learning activities.  All activities will incorporate five content components - math, science, English, social studies, and art.

Understanding by Design Planning - teachers will develop unit plans starting with creating summative assessments based on Common Core Standards, teacher will then develop formative assessments that provide student/teacher feedback, and the final piece will be where teachers design classroom experiences tailored to preparing students for the summative assessments.

Flipped Classroom and Formative Instruction - students will view online videos/resources prior to class setting and complete formative assessment to determine level of content mastery (basic, proficient, advanced). Students will use formative assessment results to sign up for appropriately leveled classroom experience. This process will take place weekly.The language needed in the grant award has been updated to acknowledge and allow for equipment purchases that exceed $5000.  This important aspect of the grant contract language will allow construction and IT materials to be ordered for installation by the opening of school.  With about 9 weeks left to school opening, the aggressive timeline is the biggest concern so overcoming the barrier to ordering supplies with the longest lead times is significant.  The demolition is complete and a final materials review will be held with the principal and teaching staff on May 29th.  The remaining greatest need for the school is still fundraising to fully meet the required budget.  Those efforts continue to yield solid results and strong partnerships.

The STEM Teaching Fellows program kicked off on Thursday, May 24, with a two-day workshop in Chattanooga. Thirty educators from around the region were nominated by their superintendents to participate in this year-long professional development program focused on STEM education. Throughout the summer the cohort members will work within their communities to identify STEM resources supporting their local schools. The cohort will reconvene on July 23 for a 3-day workshop.



Hamilton, Putnam and Sullivan counties to open three new STEM schools


NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman today announced that three new Tennessee schools focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) will open in Hamilton, Putnam and Sullivan counties.

The new schools will be funded through Tennessee’s Race to the Top grant award and will be part of the education department’s statewide STEM Innovation Network, designed to increase student participation and interest in those subjects.

“Bringing together partners from across our communities to educate Tennessee students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math is so important to the future prosperity of our state,” Haslam said. “The jobs of the 21st Century require the practical, hands-on, college-oriented and career-aligned curriculum that STEM offers, and we must prepare our children to compete.”

The winning schools were chosen through a competitive grant process, and each has a STEM “hub” – a partnership between school districts, post-secondary institutions and STEM-related or innovative businesses and non-profit organizations committed to supporting STEM programs in an area – associated with it.

Funding for future STEM schools and hubs is:

Chattanooga (Southeast STEM Initiative)
To be named STEM School - $1 million
STEM Hub - $850,000

Cookeville (Upper Cumberland Rural STEM Initiative)
Prescott South - $1 million
STEM Hub - $500,000

Tri-Cities area
Northeast STEM Platform School - $1 million
East Tennessee State University STEM Hub - $500,000

Funding for current STEM schools and hubs is:

Stratford STEM Magnet High School - $2 million
Middle Tennessee STEM Hub - $850,000

L&N STEM Academy - $2 million
KARST Coalition STEM Hub - $850,000

Huffman said he believes the statewide focus on STEM will improve teaching and learning across all subjects.

“This statewide approach will improve teaching and learning across all subjects. It is not only a subject matter, but a way of teaching with a focus on active learning,” Huffman said. “Because of this, we incorporate the philosophy of STEM into all of the work we do, including our teacher evaluation model and implementation of Common Core State Standards.”

The announcement was made at Stratford STEM Magnet High School in Nashville, where Haslam and Huffman were joined by Stratford Principal Michael Steele, Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register, Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), chairman of the General Assembly’s STEM Education Caucus, and other state legislators.