3 midstate education institutions finalists for STEM award

Three Middle Georgia institutions are being recognized for their efforts to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the state.

Houston County’s Eagle Springs Elementary School, the Museum of Aviation’s National STEM Academy and Mercer University’s School of Engineering are finalists for the third annual STEM Education Awards, given by the Technology Association of Georgia and the TAG Education Collaborative.

Eagle Springs Elementary was named a finalist in two categories: elementary school and best STEM Day activities.

In the elementary school category, Eagle Springs was nominated for its extensive STEM programming; its STEM Expo, a student-led event for the community; its collaboration with the STARBASE Robins program; and the school’s STEM-themed summer camp, Camp Invention, according to an email from Tony Cooper of the Technology Association of Georgia.

In the STEM Day category, Eagle Springs was nominated for its student-led STEM Day programming and its STEM Buddies program, in which older students help younger children with STEM projects.

Through the STEM Buddies program, third- through fifth-graders researched rocketry and designed and built rocket prototypes and helped students in kindergarten through second grade do the same. Then, the students launched their rockets together, and those whose rockets traveled the farthest were recognized, Cooper said.

Eagle Springs Elementary has been working toward STEM certification with the Georgia Department of Education, and Principal Andrea McGee said the nominations validate those efforts.

“While this won’t affect our certification, it is a validation of the great work we are doing here, and I am proud of the nomination,” she said.

Mercer’s School of Engineering was nominated for its Mercer Robotics Workshop for middle and elementary school STEM teachers, who come primarily from small counties in Georgia “and teach non-traditional STEM populations,” Cooper said.

The five-day summer workshops for teachers show them how to use robotics to teach STEM concepts that are aligned to Georgia’s standards for physics, mathematics and technology, Cooper said. After the workshop, each teacher returns to his or her school with a robotics kit.

The Museum of Aviation’s National STEM Academy earned a nomination for its “extensive efforts to attract underserved students to STEM careers,” Cooper said. The academy works with students and teachers statewide to promote STEM education, including providing scholarships to underserved students in rural Georgia to attend STEM labs, special events and conferences. The Technology Association of Georgia cited the academy’s work force-targeted STEM programs and collaboration with local schools, Cooper said.

“It’s an honor to be nominated for the STEM (extracurricular) education program of the year,” said Melissa Spalding, director of education for the Museum of Aviation, which runs the National STEM Academy. “We have our fingers crossed we’ll get it.”

The Technology Association of Georgia and the TAG Education Collaborative began the awards to highlight innovative education programs throughout the state, with the goal of increasing students’ interest in pursuing jobs in STEM fields.

In the next decade, there will be 22,000 new jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Georgia, according to a TAG news release.

“The jobs of the future are already here,” Cooper said.

Award winners will be announced at a ceremony Sept. 26 at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

To contact writer Mark Vanderhoek, call 744-4331.