Expanding K-12 Computer Science and STEM Education

In partnership with Mansfield University of PA, BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 secured $277,307 through the Governor’s PAsmart Advancing Grant aimed at helping extend technology education, apprenticeship and job training opportunities to schools in the region.  Students in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties will have an opportunity to explore careers in the fast-growing fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and computer science (CS).  The funding is part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s $30 million state-wide initiative to strategically invest in K-12.   The purpose of this grant is to grow partnerships between Local Education Agencies (LEAs), higher education institutions and businesses while expanding experiences for those historically underserved in the areas of STEM/CS education and the number of educators.

Department of Education (PDE) Special Assistant to the Secretary Pamela Smith joined regional leaders, faculty and students at Mansfield University on Tuesday, February 26 to announce that the advancing grant has been awarded to the university’s PATHways to College Program.

“The PAsmart grant will enable Mansfield and its partners to provide STEM/CS toolkits to school districts, to expand a STEM/CS lending library, and to increase student opportunities with private-sector enterprises,” said Smith, who was visiting the university as part of the Wolf Administration’s Schools That Teach Tour. “The initiatives are designed to prepare students with the skills they will need to succeed in the 21st Century workforce.”

“Over 700,000 STEM related jobs will be emerging across PA over the next several years. The specific emphasis on Computer Science is timely given that there are already over 1,900 open coding jobs in PA. Our partnership with Mansfield University will focus on supporting local school districts in enhancing their STEM/CS opportunities to ensure all students are prepared to take advantage of these job openings,” explained Dr. Christina Steinbacher-Reed, Executive Director of BLaST.

Dr. Jennifer Demchak of the Mansfield University Geosciences Department, provided creativity and leadership in the strategic and collaborative approach to promoting STEM/CS disciplines for students in the Northern Tier.  “I am excited to have received funding of this grant. It will allow us to introduce experiences they would not typically receive, along with discussing STEM/CS careers and college programs.”

To maximize the impact in the region, BLaST worked with Mansfield University to secure the grant and will serve as the fiscal agent.  Together they submitted their program summaries for the competitive grant which included a proposal to use this grant to add an additional layer of STEM/CS programming that brings professionals into the classroom with supplementary hands-on activities that the students would not normally be exposed to.  The programming will be in the form of 30, 60, and 90-minute programs on STEM/CS which will include course lectures, labs, field experiences, professional speakers, career explorations, virtual and augmented reality exploration, and college preparation.

Penny Johnson, Director of Design and Innovation for BLaST said, “We are excited and look forward to offering more in the way of increased classroom instruction and professional development for educators.  We are committed to creating a STEM ecosystem right here in central PA.   This could not have been possible without our collaboration with Mansfield University.”

Other projects will include the Pathway to College program for high school students in PA’s rural northern tier region. Over the next decade, seven in 10 new jobs in Pennsylvania will require workers to use computers and new technologies. The learning will develop literacy skills, critical and creative thinking, communication, and problem solving that lead to success within the 21st Century.

This grant will also allow for another phase of needs to be addressed in an existing resource, the Innovation Lending Library.  As part of the grant, BLaST will replicate their current Innovation Lending Library to their Canton office, thus making these STEM instructional materials more accessible to school districts across Tioga and Bradford Counties. The Lending Library consists of tools and kits of STEM/CS resources that can be borrowed by K-12 educators at no cost to use in their classrooms. This provides teachers with the opportunity to incorporate new technologies without the cost of purchasing their own equipment.  These hands-on activities are an innovative way in which the IU has made STEM/CS equipment accessible to all teachers within BLaST IU 17 school districts.

Dr. Demchak noted her excitement to execute the “toolkits” housed by BLaST. “It will streamline the opportunity for collaboration between MU, business partners and school districts. I look forward to working on the implementation of this innovative project.”