02/23/12 — Students get glimpse of career possibilities

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Students get glimpse of career possibilities

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 23, 2012 1:46 PM

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John Vause, a retired STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instructor, takes a photo of one the 14 new technology stations that are now integrated into the Norwayne Middle School tech classroom thanks to the Golden Leaf Foundation. Also with Vause are Andy Anderson, right, and County Commissioner Ray Mayo.

A high school student's goal is ultimately more than just accepting a diploma -- it's about having a well-paying and satisfying career.

And in that regard, it's never too early to make them aware of emerging or currently available opportunities right in their own backyard, says Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of Wayne County Public Schools.

So when grant money became available to fund a computer lab at Norwayne Middle School focused on skills needed in local industries, it was met with hearty approval.

The STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- learning center at the school was dedicated earlier this week, with area officials and representatives from industries like AAR and Cooper Standard on hand.

"We like to be on the cutting edge of what's going on," Taylor said, citing other initiatives in the district previously introduced, including the School of Engineering at Goldsboro High School and programs preparing students for the future.

"This learning center will allow middle grades students to complete relevant learning modules with 'real world' career applications. It is our hope that participating students will develop interests in STEM-related fields, as well as see the connection between the content they learn in their academic courses and the skills that are necessary to enter the workforce in various STEM areas."

The lab was made possible by the Golden LEAF Foundation's statewide grant program, which encourages the expansion of STEM education. The $350,000 award was announced in the fall, providing similar projects in Craven, Jones and Lenoir counties.

Paul Casey, technology teacher at the school, led the visiting dignitaries on a tour and demonstration of its features.

"The STEM Learning Center is a state-of-the-art lab that has 14 computer work stations designed to provide students with hands-on cooperative learning opportunities," explained Erlene Brogden, the district's director of career and technical education. "Students enrolled in the STEM classes will work together in groups and have the opportunity to learn about alternative energy, CADD, electricity, forensic science, robots, plastics and polymers, video production and much more.

"Students will also learn how these various areas are connected to careers in local industries."

The set-up is different from the typical classroom, said Mary Wilcox, representing Pitsco Education, the vendor which provided the technology equipment.

"This isn't taught in a lecture form," she said. "Students work in pairs at a work station. Each work station is a different job or industry area of focus that students learn STEM skills.

"The large focus is on technology, math and science but to experience real-life applications of why they need to know these skills."

It also incorporates a vital area in today's workforce -- soft skills, such as interviewing, communication and teamwork.

All module stations are set up with headphones, explained Casey, who said the option allows students to "listen along" to a tutorial. But beyond that, he said, it incorporates vocational classes into the regular core curriculum students are required to have.

"They learn about technology and reinforcing reading skills," he said. "Math and science are involved as well."

Another important component is the partnership it affords with local industries partners, like AAR, Cooper Standard Automotive, SPX Flow Technology and Balfour Beatty Rail Inc., which made the grant possible.

"We looked at skill sets we use in our facility, knowing this is something that we do every day," said Toby Lynch of AAR. "What I tried to do was pick out things that we use or people in our production area use every day in their job."

Betty Brock of Cooper Standard echoed the sentiment, saying her business deals with some "very sophisticated machines" and it's helpful when new hires have some background and knowledge about operating them.

Approximately 80 percent of Norwayne students are expected to take advantage of the STEM class while at the school. They have already begun to introduce students in grades 6, 7 and 8 to the program, Casey said.

"We got all the equipment back in October and finally during November we had everything set up, actually let the students start working in the modules," he said.

"What I'm hoping for this semester is students will get to go through at least nine rotations."

He explained that each station features several sessions for students to complete before moving on to another module. Not everyone will make it to all 14 modules, he said, which is why they offer a "sharing day," allowing students to hear from their classmates about other skill areas.

So far, the program has met with rousing success, Casey said.

"The kids are really excited when they come in, and I'm excited, too. They want to know, 'When do I get to cook hot dogs?'" he said, referring to one of the stations, which includes a solar hot dog cooker.