State comes together to improve STEM programs

Pedro Rivera called Centre County the “epicenter” for science education defined by STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

The state Department of Education secretary spoke to about 50 people Tuesday morning at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center during a meeting with the state STEM committee and stakeholders invested in enhancing science education.

And he said a place like Penn State is an ideal place to start.

According to a report from PDE, Gov. Tom Wolf set a goal to increase the number of full-time students enrolled in STEM majors at state universities to 10,000 by 2020. His administration also plans to secure about $640 million in additional funding for schools to help better prepare students for college and career readiness in specific fields.

But the STEM meeting Tuesday was just a start to what Rivera said will help with long-term goals for STEM programs.

“It’s really going to thrive the next generation of education,” he said. “We like to say often that we’re preparing kids for careers that don’t yet exist … and this this is really an opportunity for us to create a movement around innovation, around STEM education, (and) around this focus on preparedness for the next generation.”

The daylong agenda allowed the leaders to network with each other and brainstorm ways to improve STEM education and careers.

It included representatives from energy companies, like Chevron, and public school districts in the commonwealth.

Superintendent Brian Toth spoke about ways St. Mary’s Area School District is using STEM in day-to-day education.

He said the district has three educators utilized specifically as STEM instructional coaches who help implement work for students in kindergarten to 12th grade.

“This is helping us meet our goals as a district and (STEM) goals as a commonwealth,” Toth said.

Those statewide goals, according to PDE, includes developing PDE’s STEM mission, vision and language; and building a STEM communication network and STEM Toolkit.

Long-term goals include “diversifying and increasing” the number of teachers prepared to teach STEM, the number of students engaging in STEM-related opportunities and the number of state residents that are STEM literate, the PDE report said.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo