Baltimore County Public Schools officials are partnering with tech industry professionals to meet the state’s demand to increase the number of students who pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.
Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to see triple the number of teachers in STEM shortage areas, and a 40 percent increase in the number of STEM college graduates by 2015. His request is based on a task force recommendation that was released in 2009, which indicated Maryland is “falling behind” in terms of producing such professionals.
Baltimore County is “ahead of the curve,” according to outgoing Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston when it comes to nurturing science education from elementary to high school.
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Investments in STEM learning studios, countywide robotics competitions and Project L.i.V.E (Learning in Virtual Environments), such as portable plantentariums, are just some of the examples at the public school level.
But more needs to be done, according to John Quinn, executive director of STEM for Baltimore County Public Schools.
“BCPS has a good foundation but ultimately we can do better,” Quinn said. “If we can somehow give kids a reason for wanting to study in the STEM field—if a math teacher can answer why quadratic equations are important and how you could use them—those are the types of things that we think will start to inspire more kids to want to pursue STEM careers.”
The Alliance—composed of Baltimore County colleges and public schools as well as tech firms Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, among others—is working from the “cradle to career” model of investing in students to pursue technology and science jobs.
A mere 4 percent of the country’s workforce is comprised of such professionals. China’s workforce, meanwhile, is composed of 34 percent STEM professionals, according to Baltimore County Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
China graduates roughly 1 million scientists to America’s 250,000 each year—only 4,000 out of Maryland, Ruppersberger said.
“It’s not just about going to the moon anymore,” Ruppersberger said, citing the need for more cyber-security professionals.
June Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, co-chaired the governor’s STEM task force. She told potential stakeholders that the Alliance’s plan in Baltimore County is customized to meet the state’s goal.
“The world is a much smaller place now,” Streckfus said. “For our graduates to be successful they need to speak the international language of math and science and they need to speak it fluently. That was our basic premise.”
To do that, the Alliance hopes to expand its footprint throughout the county by pairing STEM professionals with teachers.
Quinn offered the example that teachers could create lesson plans with the advice from working scientists, engineers or mathematicians. Alliance business partners would also offer resources, and possibly financial aid to schools and colleges to meet the demand.
The country has made bettering its science fields a priority, offering over $1 billion in grants for STEM education, according to the state task force's report. Last year, President Obama visited a school in Parkville to praise it for its STEM efforts.
Baltimore County in recent years has received about $15 million total from private and government grants for developing a stronger science curriculum and providing educational resources and programs.
The money has gone toward initiatives like two Star Labs—portable planetariums—meant to excite young students about the astronomy field. The money has also gone toward the virtual learning lab and classroom at Chesapeake High School.
“It changed the lives of children,” Hairston said. “The children, who people had given up on, we now have children talking being engineers and going to college. All you have to do is go and see them being engaged on the day-to-day basis, understanding the concepts of science and math, interacting with engineers at Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman."
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz also committed Wednesday that his budget—to be unveiled Thursday—would preserve the county's efforts toward its STEM goals.