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Educators and business leaders discuss partnerships at STEM conference

6/11/2009 —
Some 80 area educators and local business leaders participated in the first Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Conference at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus in May. “Industry and Education: Defining Our Common Ground” was the aptly-named theme of the event developed by Penn State Fayette, Intermediate Unit 1 and the Center for Advancement of STEM Education (CASE) to address challenges raised by educators who say they need assistance in making these  topics more interesting and appealing to middle and high school students. Business leaders, also, have a vital interest in that the demand for workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and math continues to increase, while supply dwindles. Preliminary discussions to host a STEM conference arose from a survey that area STEM teachers completed last year.

Dr. Joseph Shostell, biology professor and the conference chair for Penn State Fayette, explains, “This first STEM conference was an important and necessary step to support STEM education in southwestern Pennsylvania and the surrounding region. Our objectives for the conference were to provide examples of newly developed technologies and methods that support quality teaching in public and private schools; to establish a dialogue between the business and education communities that highlights STEM jobs in the real world and their correlation with STEM curricula; and to provide a communication platform—a STEM hub, so to speak—that links school teachers to each other, as well as to scientists.”

Dina Kriebel, a chemistry teacher at Uniontown Area High School and a panel discussion participant at the conference, says the event was a very good start. “I was very encouraged by the STEM conference because it offered the opportunity to begin discussions about ways to strengthen STEM education in Fayette County.”

Guest speaker Barry Nathan of Catalyst Connection emphasized that post-secondary education is critical to educate workers who are technologically proficient. STEM education leads to intellectual capital, he pointed out.

According to statistics Nathan provided, southwestern Pennsylvania will need 100,000 people for STEM-related jobs over the next 15 years. “Information isn’t knowledge, we’re awash in information,” Nathan said. What we need are “people who know and understand science.”

Penn State Fayette Chancellor Dr. Emmanuel I. Osagie says he is very optimistic that partnerships between local educators and business leaders will grow as a result of the event. “Conferences like this one are important in bringing everyone together, not only to put their challenges on the table, but to work together to come up with solutions. The discussion and new ideas the STEM conference generated were encouraging, so we will look to continue to provide a venue and additional opportunities to increase awareness and initiatives for STEM education across the region.”

Stem Conference
Barry Nathan, guest speaker from Catalyst Connection, speaks to a room full of educators and business leaders about the need for technically-skilled workers at the Southwest Pennsylvania Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Conference held May 19 at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.
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