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Educators Get a New Place for Discovery

by Logan Stewart

September 9, 2013

Discovery Place announced this summer the creation of a new educational facility dedicated to providing K-12 educators with the skills necessary to be effective and inspiring teachers of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The new professional development program launches at a time when U.S. student performance in these subjects is average or lower than their international peers (PISA, 2009). The program will be housed at the Bank of America STEM Center for Career Development, a space provided by Bank of America on Poplar Street in Uptown Charlotte, adjacent to Discovery Place.

For a nation determined to be an innovative leader in the global economy, lagging student performance in STEM topics doesn’t bode well for the future. In fact, when stacked up against 65 other countries, American students rank 23rd in math and 21st in science (NY Times, 2010). A research summary by Discovery Place reveals that just over 25% of North Carolina eighth-graders and 28% of South Carolina eighth-graders are proficient or better in science, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Other points in the summary highlight how the growing lack of youth interest in STEM careers impacts the economy, including:

  • In the decade following 2008, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17% compared to 9.8% for non-STEM occupations (NC State of the Workforce Report 2011);
  • By 2018, approximately 1.4 million job vacancies are projected for North Carolina, particularly STEM jobs in medical and allied health and computer technology;
  • For every individual currently unemployed in North Carolina there are 1.7 STEM jobs available in the state (NC STEM Scorecard).

With the support of launch partners Bank of America, Duke Energy and UTC Aerospace Systems, Discovery Place’s new STEM Center will train formal (school-based) and informal (museum, science center and zoo-based) educators to help them become effective instructors who will inspire students. With a focus on programs for pre K- 12 educators of science, technology, engineering and math, the Center will provide a wide range of intensive learning experiences that may be taken individually or in sequence. Museum resources including exhibits, hands-on labs and collections will also be accessible for program participants.

“You can’t come to Discovery Place and not learn,” said Charles Bowman, Bank of America's N.C. and Charlotte market president. “We are better when connected to educators and knowledge. This project will touch thousands of schoolchildren. It's a great day for us, and it's an investment in our teachers, young people and economy.”

The Center also plans to partner with universities and STEM-based businesses to remain on the forefront of issues and developments in the field. Leaders will track and evaluate what methods engage and interest teachers and their students in STEM topics and what methods fail, and plan to share that information with the educational community.

Commitments from Duke Energy for $450,000 and UTC Aerospace Systems for $250,000 will enable Discovery Place to expand and offer the center’s programs to hundreds of teachers throughout North and South Carolina. The museum plans to reach out to businesses related to science, technology, engineering and math as it continues to develop the project, hoping to train as many as 600 educators in its first year.

“This center will prove to be a gem in uptown Charlotte," said Richard “Stick” Williams, president, Duke Energy Foundation. "We want to equip teachers with the tools and knowledge to inspire students across the Carolinas."

Discovery Place, which has offered professional development programs for educators for more than 25 years, will operate the center, develop programs and manage staff.

“It’s imperative to our economy that our children are exposed to quality STEM learning opportunities particularly at that fundamental elementary school level,” said John Mackay, president and CEO, Discovery Place. “An engaged, prepared teacher can have an immense impact on a child’s education.”

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Tags: Discovery Place, STEM, Education, Bank of America, Duke Energy, Charles Bowman

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