NewsEducationK-12 / May 29, 2014

Indy Chosen for STEM Grant

Sam Klemet
Indy Chosen for STEM Grant

Indianapolis is sharing a one million dollar grant with six other cities to increase mentoring of students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields.

The award is part of President Obama’s US 2020 initiative to cultivate more interest among young people in STEM fields.

Fifty two cities applied, but only seven, including Indianapolis, were chosen.

Indianapolis Public Schools will work with companies around the city to connect young people with professionals in STEM industries who can help develop their understanding of the subjects through programs and educational activities.

Tech Point Foundation for Youth Executive Director Laura Dodds says having federal backing helps break down barriers.

"There two kinds of obstacles that prevent these programs, volunteers to run them and money to pay for them," she said.  "We know we can't pass that cost onto students and we can't pass that cost onto STEM programs that are also non-profit.  So, it's a way of connecting all of those dots."

Tech Point is coordinating the program in Indianapolis.

Initially, Dodds says the process will involve identifying what programs work in generating interest in STEM subjects.

"They have to be hands on experiencial programs that are proven to inspire students to go into STEM careers," said Dodds.  "There is a lot out there.  There is a lot of noise in STEM.  We are looking to really narrow that down to the programs that are proven to be successful and then make sure the schools and students have all the resources they need to get those programs up and running and sustain them."

The six-year pilot program in Indianapolis launches in August and will include nine IPS schools. It will involve mentoring during the school day, after school, and in the summer.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee says the program will allow the district to connect with students earlier and spark their interest in STEM at a younger age.

"Students get an opportunity to explore science and math in a hands on way, in real world fashion in ways that we haven't done in the past," said Ferebee.  "I think once we expose students to STEM, they'll be excited about it.  They'll be interested and I think we will attract interest we haven't in the past."

The ultimate goal is to get more students interested in pursuing STEM careers.

Indianapolis Deputy Mayor of Education Jason Kloth says there is currently a misalignment between employer demand and workforce supply.

"Simply put, we do not have enough individuals with backgrounds in STEM fields," he said.  "This leads to higher unemployment and sluggish economic development."

One man familiar with technology workforce challenges is David Becker. 

He is the President and CEO of First Internet Bank and in his 35 years of business in Indianapolis says one of his biggest pains is finding good, qualified talent which is why he is encouraged by the program.

"When you connect the dots for the students and a lot of that is done through mentoring and actually showing how does math work in the real world, how does science work in the real world? Connect the dots for me.  Give me something.  Show me why this is tangible instead of just rote memorization," he said.  "It really makes a tremendous difference in their life and their opportunities."

The program will start expanding in Indianapolis in the summer of 2015 and in the final three years organizers hope to take it to other major economic regions across the state.