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‘We don’t have a choice’ — STREAMWORKS director says STEM education vital for students and economy

Rick Wagner • Oct 15, 2018 at 12:42 PM

KINGSPORT — Whether robotics, underwater robotics, drones or other such things are front and center, STREAMWORKS Executive Director Dennis Courtney’s job is all about getting K-12 students involved hands-on in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

It’s working both for the good of students and the benefit of business and industry.

Courtney gave the Kingsport Board of Education an overview of the program he oversees and invited members to drop by the STREAMWORKS Power by Eastman student work area at 252 Broad St. some Saturday.

He said the program works with education systems, industry and communities.

“About 2.4 million skilled jobs will go unfilled in 2020,” Courtney told the board, while the United States ranks 38th in math and 24th in science worldwide. He said immigrants are needed to fill many technical jobs but that about 70 percent of students who participate in robotics will pursue STEM-related careers in college. And don’t get him started on the projection that one million computer programming jobs will go unfilled by 2020.

“We don’t have a choice,” he said.

Courtney said the nonprofit operation works to bring extra rigor into extracurricular activities for students soon entering the 21st century workforce. The goal, he said, is to bring opportunities to all, including the disadvantaged and underprivileged. He showed the BOE a trailer for the movie “Spare Parts,” based on the true story of a group of Arizona kids with no money or experience competing with a robotics team from MIT.

He also recounted the story of a student he mentored in Georgia who graduated from technical college before high school and is seeking a four-year degree. He said the student came from a background including living with three family members who were drug addicts.

Programs like STREAMWORKS can help those types of students and others, including females, who he said have a high interest in science and math in their early years, but lose interest by their senior year of high school or freshman year of college.

The “secret sauce” of STREAMWORKS, Courtney said, is to emphasize engineering design, the scientific method, grit, robotics and drones, combining them into something that can help future employment of the students and assist U.S. industry and businesses with their needs.

On Dec. 8 at Sevier Middle School, there will be an Into Orbit Challenge, which is expected to draw about 1,000 students working with robots. In the spring, the MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education) Smoky Mountain regional underwater robotics competition will be held in Kingsport, followed by the Jun 20-22 International MATE competition, also in the Model City. He said MIT was supposed to host the 2019 international event but asked to do so a later year and that he jumped at the change to bring the event to Kingsport.

Both competitions will be at the Kingsport Aquatic Center. Courtney said the international event will draw about 1,500 students.

“You’ll see kids from Russia and Egypt,” he noted.

A little closer to home but also along promoting STEM, Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said that he was pleased with the recent Roosevelt Elementary Family Engagement Night at the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) in the Academic Village. He said some families learned about Tennessee Reconnect, which can pay for certificated and two-year degrees for adults, as well as options for the Tennessee Promise to pay the same for students right after they graduate high school. 

 

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