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Motlow endowment creates STEM position for outreach

Nov. 13, 2014
Kelly Lapczynski, Tullahoma News
Used by permission


Dr. MaryLou Apple, president of Motlow College, has announced that the school will soon be creating a new Master Teacher position for its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education outreach to middle schools.

According to Apple, financial gifts received in the past few years for STEM outreach have been funneled into a Motlow College Foundation endowment account for long-term growth.

"An endowment never leaks," said Apple. That's because monies given to an endowment are invested and only the annual interest earned on the account is used to fund programming while the principal gift remains intact. "It's a forever gift that will keep giving."

That STEM endowment account has now reached a level that Apple feels will allow the college "to provide a master teacher who is designated to go into our middle schools and try to ensure that every one of our children somewhere between fourth and seventh grade is exposed to and participates in a high-technology experience."

For the last several years, Motlow professor Billy Hix has played an essential role in Motlow's outreach programming by scheduling summer STEM camps, portable planetarium school visits and evening star parties around his regular teaching schedule, but despite those efforts Apple says, "We haven't been able to do something consistent. We hope that (through this new position) we can touch every student at least once in their middle school years."

"It is such an exciting thing for all the communities in the Motlow service area," said Hix, who helped to formulate the Foundation's plan for the new position. "For the first time ever that I know of there is the hope to have continuous, ongoing support of those STEM educational activities, particularly in rural locations. We are going to be able to touch young people with this program that would have never had such a program otherwise," said Hix.

Those students might have been otherwise overlooked because many university STEM outreach programs are grant funded and can only target schools that meet certain criteria. That limitation can be a source of frustration for educators hoping to bring such programs in to their schools. However, Hix says, the endowment-funded Motlow program is for everybody, notably including those in the college's 11-county service area "that will never have the resources and funding to have their own program."

"We can do it because it's the right thing to do, not because it meets some criteria in a grant," says Hix.

Hix says that he'd like to see a situation where no student reaches 8th grade without having had exposure to STEM outreach and he's thankful that Apple is an ally in that goal. "She is the only president I've ever worked for that would say 'what's best for the community?' and not 'how are you going to make the most money off of it?'. She takes the concept of community college to heart - that it is a college that ought to be impacting the community in which we live."

Research shows that early exposure to STEM will be critical to future workforce development in an increasingly information-based and highly technological global economy.

A study by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows that by 2018, 8 million jobs in the U.S. economy will require a college degree in STEM; yet the U.S. Department of Education reports that only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a science career.

That lack of interest comes early. The National Center for STEM Elementary Education notes that by the time students reach fourth grade, a third of students have lost an interest in science. By eighth grade, nearly 50 percent have either lost interest or have lost confidence in their ability to perform science, narrowing the STEM pipeline by half.

With the United States falling behind internationally - ranking 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations - that narrowing pipeline is not only a national problem, but also a local one.

Motlow serves an area that is rich in STEM-related professions and Apple says, "Our industry and businesses are screaming for employees with skill sets in the STEM areas." Reaching area students before they hit the 8th grade disinterest threshold is crucial.

"Over a period of time, it will be interesting to look back and see if we're generating more students who have a higher expectation of themselves or have a more robust idea of all the things they could be," says Apple.

In the future, Motlow would like to see the endowment grow so that the college can provide specific STEM camps for girls (who are outnumbered seven to one by men in the scientific workplace) and for teachers, to keep them "current and energized" as technology changes. But right now, Apple says, "We're limited on what we can do because we're limited on funds."

Anyone wishing to donate to the STEM endowment may contact Motlow College director of advancement Jan Rogers at 393-1692 or via e-mail at jrogers@mscc.edu.

Motlow will likely begin interviewing for the master teacher position in late spring or early summer to allow time for lesson plan development before the new STEM outreach program is rolled out in the fall of 2015.