St. Joseph County to Participate in Regional STEM Education Initiative

Author: United Way of St. Joseph County

St. Joseph County to Participate in Regional STEM Education Initiative
K-12 Districts can apply for program funding

South Bend, Ind. (March 1, 2014) – United Way of St. Joseph County and the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce announced that all K-12 schools in St. Joseph County are eligible to participate in the regional STEM Education Initiative announced Saturday morning by Project Lead The Way (PLTW), the nation’s leading provider of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs, and the Corporate Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG) at a STEM teacher training program held at the University of Notre Dame.

PLTW announced that Northern Indiana was selected to become a model region for PLTW, providing all K-12 schools, both public and private, in a five-county area with the opportunity to implement PLTW’s rigorous, world-class STEM programs in engineering, biomedical science, and computer science. The partnership creates a $4.4 million matching grant pilot program to offset startup costs associated with teacher training, participation fees, and required equipment and will be available to schools beginning with the 2014-15 school year and continuing through 2016. Schools in the five-county area of Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciusko, Marshall, and St. Joseph may begin applying for grant funds immediately. Applications for the 2014-15 academic year are due March 31, and schools will be accepted and notified in April.

In St. Joseph County, PLTW programs are currently being utilized at Mishawaka High School, Penn High School, Riley High School and South Bend Career Academy. In addition, Kennedy Primary Academy in South Bend is participating as a pilot site for a new program, PLTW LaunchTM, during the 2013-14 school year. The leaders of these schools have voiced support for expanding PLTW and providing these learning opportunities to a greater number of students in the coming years. “The most immediate impact of PLTW will be specialized training and support for teachers and the opportunity to engage students in new ways,” says Larry Garatoni, local business leader and co-founder of The South Bend Career Academy and Magnet Investors. “The long-term impact will be a more productive, innovative and entrepreneurial workforce and a more vibrant local economy. This is an investment in our future.”

To be selected as a model region, each participating county had to raise a percentage of the matching funds, based on the number of schools in their county. In St. Joseph County, the United Way of St. Joseph County, with support from the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce and community leaders, secured over $800,000 in financial commitments for St. Joseph County schools to participate. The funding to support implementation in St. Joseph County schools was generously provided by a combination of business and industry, private and community foundations, colleges and universities and individual philanthropists. “United Way of St. Joseph County is proud to play a role in bringing Project Lead The Way to our schools,” said Kay Ball, President/CEO of United Way of St. Joseph County. “Our engagement with PLTW is one component of United Way’s commitment to a comprehensive vision for sustainable, transformative education reform and equal access for all students.”

In addition to providing every student with access to PLTW, the regional partnership with PLTW engages the local community, business and industry and will help develop a robust talent pipeline for those businesses and industries. Jeff Rea, President and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce states, “Recent studies indicate that there are more than 300 vacant STEM jobs in our region and more coming in the future.  These are jobs that typically produce incomes that pay and grow above the national average. Implementing PLTW programs can play a key role in helping to prepare our students for these career opportunities.”  The other counties participating in this regional initiative with St. Joseph County are Elkhart, Fulton, Kosciusko and Marshall.

PLTW is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Indianapolis, providing STEM programs and high-quality teacher professional development to more than 5,000 schools across the United States, including 345 schools in Indiana. PLTW’s five programs include PLTW LaunchTM for grades K-5, PLTW GatewayTM for students in grades 6-8, and PLTW EngineeringTM, PLTW Biomedical ScienceTM, and PLTW Computer ScienceTM for high school students. By aligning with PLTW, CPEG and its member organizations are able to offer more students access to the rigorous STEM programs that will prepare Northern Indiana students for the global economy.

STEM jobs are growing at a rate of 18 percent, nearly twice the rate of other fields. By 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimates 1.2 million unfilled jobs in STEM fields due to a widening skills gap. In Indiana, 123,000 new STEM jobs will exist by 2018, the majority of which will be computer and mathematical scientists, engineers, and engineering technicians. STEM jobs are among the country’s highest paying jobs.