STEM Entrepreneurship Academy Helps Prepare High Schoolers for World of Rapid Change

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By Yiben Liu
CCBP Graduate Assistant

How do you get youngsters ready for a world in which science and technology seem to be moving at warp speed?

For 35 high school students from West Alabama counties, a starting point was attending this year’s STEM Academy, Sunday through Friday, July 16–21.

“This was our third very successful STEM Academy,” said Dr. Holly Morgan, director of Community Education in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships. Her assessment of the camp’s success is borne out by the record 110 students, guests and families who attended the closing program on Friday evening of the camp.

The students came from 11 high schools — Aliceville, Amelia L. Johnson High, Fayette, Greene County, Hale County, Holt, Oakman, Pickens County, Sumter Central, Central (Tuscaloosa), and Greensboro — in eight counties.

“In an incredibly short period of time, we introduced students to each of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics),” Dr. Morgan said. “They were taught by exceptional members of the UA faculty and staff. Students also got to explore their career interests, talk about related fields of study, and ask questions about college life.”

To top it off, students worked on an “entrepreneurship challenge” in which they designed a product or service based on the needs of their school or community. Before arriving at camp, students had submitted ideas for the challenge.

Dr. Morgan recruited an impressive teaching and administrative staff from the University and community for this year’s Academy. They were Dr. Marcus Ashford, mechanical engineering; Dr. Ryan Earley, biological sciences; Dr. Kabe Moen, mathematics; Dr. Rebecca Odom-Bartel, computer science; Mary Loyd Lowrey, UA Career Center; Tommie Syx, Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute; Tim Lewis and Slade Prisoc of The Gateway, an innovation and discovery center; Adriane Sheffield, educational psychology; and Whitney Sewell, Community Affairs.

“The feedback we received from students, parents and community partners this year was both positive and supportive,” Morgan said. “Students particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the hands-on activities at The Gateway and our mini career fair.”

The Career Center administered a career inventory and conducted a strengths assessment as part of a simulated career fair involving representatives from several University colleges and departments.

The camp’s goal is to offer a fun but challenging and innovative hands-on approach to help students understand STEM as fields of study. They were also introduced to entrepreneurship concepts essential to the workplace and for business start-ups to connect STEM areas such as computer science and geometric art to the entrepreneurial model.

For the first time, eight of the 11 camp teachers attended sessions on either Tuesday or Wednesday as participants in order to improve and expand their STEM skills. Teachers engaged also in the Google Classroom learning platform to communicate with Dr. Morgan and her staff regarding students’ entrepreneurship projects during the 2017–2018 school year.

Prior to their arrival, students had submitted entrepreneurial ideas that meet current needs in their community and/or school to Google Classroom. Under specific parameters for their project, the campers designed a product or service that addresses the identified need in this year’s Entrepreneurship Challenge with a hypothetical $2,000 budget and a mentor’s guidance to implement it.

Students had plenty of mentors to choose from this year, as CCBP has expanded its partnerships to more campus and community entities such as the UA Career Center and The Gateway, a City of Tuscaloosa innovation and discovery center on University Boulevard in Alberta City.

“The Academy can benefit students in a variety of ways,” Morgan said.  “Students not only increase their problem-solving skills but also have the potential to benefit their communities. All eleven school teams presented their final project designs during the closing program and plan to seek funding in order to implement the projects in their schools and/or communities.”