Dec 26th, 2012 @ 9:05 pm | Author: Dr. Steve Shirley
Valley City State University launched the Great Plains STEM Education Center in 2010. The Center was established by funding through a federal grant with the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The mission of VCSU's STEM Center is to, "provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and training for K-12 students and teachers as an essential step in increasing the technology and engineering capacity of the U.S. workforce."

One of VCSU's key partners with the development of the STEM Center has been an organization known as TIES (Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM). TIES is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and is widely regarded as a national leader in STEM Education. Last week, representatives from our STEM Center along with other North Dakota K-12 leaders and I traveled to Cleveland to learn more about innovative STEM efforts in Ohio. While there, we met with officials from TIES, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Lorain County Community College.

A highlight of the trip was visiting the MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland. MC2 STEM HS is a project-based school where students actively learn in various settings. The high school's 9th grade campus is at the Great Lakes Science Center museum and its 10th grade campus is located at General Electric Lighting Division's world headquarters (both the GE campus and the Science Center are in Cleveland). During the 11th and 12th grades, the MC2 STEM students complete internships and apprenticeships throughout Cleveland, and are not in a traditional physical school setting. Additionally, these high school students attend classes year-round (10 weeks of class followed by a three week break for four terms) and have the option to receive college credits. Students are rewarded for mastery of subject, not seat time.

The MC2 STEM school was named one of America's three best urban high schools for 2012 by the National Center for Urban School Transformation. In addition, 100% of the students enrolled at MC2 STEM are on free and reduced lunch programs. Over 80% of the students are proficient in science, mathematics, reading, and writing. These are students who, despite some potentially challenging odds, are succeeding in an innovative school setting and are clearly exceeding expectations.

At Lorain County Community College, we toured the first Fab Lab ever installed in the U.S. at a location outside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is a concept developed by MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. The idea of a fab lab is to provide a widespread means for innovation and invention through project-based learning. Fab labs are equipped with lasercutters, milling machines, programming tools, software, prototyping equipment, and computers to enhance the student's real-world learning. There are now approximately 110 fab labs throughout the world, and they are typically 'open-source,' meaning individuals from across the globe can share knowledge and ideas.

VCSU has long been a leader in teacher-education, and the work through our Great Plains STEM Education Center is yet another example of this leadership and innovation. Without a doubt, new methods and ideas embodied through STEM teaching practices will be vital to our nation's success in the years ahead. VCSU is committed to educating the next generation of world-class teachers who will teach and educate tomorrow's leaders, and we know STEM Education will be a critical element in these efforts.