Local STEM nonprofit gets an academic boost, hoping to inspire more student’s STEM interests. Partnership between Jacksonville University and Renaissance Jax announced.

(courtesy of News4Jax.com)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Renaissance Jax is helping lead the way in inspiring more Northeast Florida students to explore the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and now its impact will be felt even further with Jacksonville University as its Official Education Partner. According to the Renaissance Jax website, they aim to aid local children in their discovery of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in an enjoyable educational setting that inspires educational and real-world achievement. They support and sponsor children who participate in robotics competitions, and they aim to support 300 teams in Duval county alone.

A new agreement will bring academic and financial support to the nonprofit, which is the official Lego League Affiliate Partner for the national nonprofit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Renaissance Jax, founded by Mark McCombs, supports nearly 2,000 K-12 students of promise across 20 Northeast Florida counties as they take part in robotics competitions. Its goal is to have the largest number of competitive robotics participants per capita globally by 2021.

Jacksonville University will provide annual scholarships to five incoming freshmen who have competed in at least one full season on a FIRST Robotics Competition or FIRST Tech Challenge team during high school. The scholarships are awarded to students who intend to pursue an education in engineering, physics, computing sciences or mathematics.

“Renaissance Jax represents the leading edge of robotics competition, and we are proud to be its Official Education Partner,” said JU President Tim Cost. “This partnership aligns with our education goal of supporting organizations that impact and improve educational opportunities for Florida’s K-12 students. As Jacksonville University continues to intensify its emphasis on science, engineering, technology and related fields, we look forward to working with a true innovator like Mark McCombs to enhance academic rigor across the region.”

First

In addition to its financial support and targeted scholarships, JU will:

-Provide faculty/staff executive to serve on the Renaissance Jax Board of Directors.
-Develop Renaissance Jax internship opportunities for JU students.
-Conduct a comprehensive study on the impact of Duval County Public Schools student participation in LEGO League.
-Develop a multi-year survey to assess students’ attitudes toward STEM and academic achievement.
-Sponsor teams that have won the annual FIRST LEGO League Regional contest to help with their travel and registration expenses as they advance in regional and national competition.

JU has added undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM fields in recent years, hired additional faculty and invested in new facilities as it engages with the community to produce work-ready and life-ready graduates. With a mutual desire to spark young students’ interest in educational and career opportunities in STEM fields – a priority for the region – JU and Renaissance Jax developed the opportunity to join forces to bolster efforts that bring students direct, hands-on experiences to explore their love for engineering, math, technology and science.

“The community that is growing around FIRST in Northeast Florida is amazing in the ways that they are fostering so many young people’s future opportunities and positive mindsets toward problem solving. JU’s $100,000 scholarship program is a bold statement of its support of FIRST and the work that Renaissance Jax is doing, and I know it will invigorate the pursuits of our high school students in our region,” said McCombs.

“The real story here will be the accomplishments of the students who come through FIRST locally and then build their lives in our community. The growth that will come from our FIRST alumni will be tremendous for Jacksonville and the rest of Northeast Florida.”

FIRST is an international youth organization founded in 1989 that operates robotics competitions. Renaissance Jax, which has held competitions at JU in the past, has a goal of supporting more than 300 teams and 6,500 students in the region by 2021 in designing, building and programming robots. McCombs founded the organization and has been involved in robotics himself since high school.

The new arrangement is designed to ignite the passions of even more students to become scientists, engineers and skilled workers, so that Northeast Florida is attractive when companies look to relocate here and see a large talent pool in math and technology, McCombs said.

Copyright 2017 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

STEM Education in 2017: Are Today’s Kids Prepared to Be the Future of Silicon Valley?

(courtesy of payscale.com)

Even if you don’t have kids, you should care about STEM education in schools. After all, our future depends on today’s students becoming tomorrow’s innovators and business leaders, and that means getting a solid foundation in science, technology, engineering, and math — no matter what field they enter.

elementary school student

Dr. Melanie LaForce, Principal Research Scientist at Outlier Research & Evaluation at the University of Chicago, warns that all students need STEM, even if they plan to make their living far outside of the computer lab.

“All students should learn how to do some coding, even if they don’t plan for a career in [computer science],” she says, in a recent interview with PayScale. “CS education encourages problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as familiarity with emerging technology. In today’s world, these skills are absolutely critical for the workplace. The United States needs high-quality, publicly funded STEM education to remain competitive in nearly every industry.”

When we think of STEM, we shouldn’t see an isolated set of skills or even college majors. Nor should we relegate learning opportunities to electives and after-school programs. STEM should be integrated into every subject, every gender, and every group — especially those traditionally underrepresented in these careers.

“Learning code shouldn’t be exclusive to after-school opportunities,” LaForce says. “This is critical to ensuring all students, including those who may have less social capital, are exposed to CS and STEM.”

STEM Education for All

LaForce says that schools are finally starting to make stride integrating computer science training into formal public education. In the meantime, after-school opportunities have filled in the gaps. Newer programs provide education to students who typically have less access to STEM education. For example, Girls who Code, Black Girls Code, and the National Girls Collaborative provide opportunities targeted specifically to female, non-binary, black or intersectional students.

“Females are dramatically underrepresented in STEM careers, especially CS,” she says. “It’s widely documented that females often feel excluded or unwelcome in a cismale-dominated CS culture. Encouraging all students, especially those underrepresented in STEM, to learn code from an early age will start to populate a more diverse CS culture. We are beginning to see a slight increase in STEM career diversity, and by exposing students early, persistently, and with high quality — this will continue to improve.”

The Perennial Cry to Boost STEM

The U.S. lags behind in math and science scores. STEM education is at risk even in Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group noted in a report last spring that “while Silicon Valley’s STEM talent is the most concentrated in the U.S., STEM degrees conferred from regional education institutions are growing more slowly than in other regions.” That means that in the tech industry’s own neighborhood, schools aren’t doing enough to promote STEM education. That’s a problem.

Per the report:

In 2015, only 49 percent of Silicon Valley’s 8th grade students met or exceeded the new state standards for mathematics proficiency, and there was significant disparity in proficiency by race and ethnicity. Only 20 percent of Black or African-American students and 21 percent of Hispanic or Latino students met or exceeded standards for mathematics in 8th grade, compared to 79 percent of 8th grade Asian students, and 66 percent of white students.

Where Companies Can Lend a Helping Hand

LaForce notes that tech companies can help fill in the gaps in STEM education, and should — especially if they expect to draw from the talent pool as they get older.

“First, it’s critical that public funds continue to prioritize high quality STEM education,” she says. “However, STEM businesses and organizations can support this movement by partnering with local schools. Employers can support STEM education by giving a talk about their job, bringing students in to see a rich STEM career experience in action, or helping partner with teachers to develop problem-based lessons relevant to the real-world.”

 

 Anne Holub
Anne Holub is a writer and editor specializing in composing and managing content for digital environments. She’s written about health and wellness trends, local city tourism topics, and all the great things going on that make you want to get up off the couch and explore the world around you. A passionate music fan, she served as the editor for a Chicago-based website’s music section for 10 years. She also makes excellent biscuits.