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STEM education in Carter County… One innovator, one child, a difference in the future

BY IVAN SANDERS

STAR STAFF

ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com

When one hears the word STEM, it is often difficult to put together exactly what that term means in an educational sense however it is relatively simple once it is understood.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.

Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.

Though the United States has historically been a leader in these fields, fewer students have been focusing on these topics recently.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven proficiency in mathematics.

Currently, nearly 28 percent of high school freshmen declare an interest in a STEM-related field, a department website says, but 57 percent of these students will lose interest by the time they graduate from high school.

However, one local entrepreneur believes that with the right guidance for the youth in the community and the amazing STEM projects built will change how STEM education is viewed.

“Kids are naturally creative, they don’t tend to think that something isn’t possible,” said Brandon Pierce, a local native who has a vision for what developing Future Innovators in Carter County looks like.

“But how do we take something so pure, and create a system that will set them up for success? Allowing them to have the help that lets their creative minds dream and the skillsets needed to expand way beyond just creativity.

“So our focus is to go beyond just math and science with our STEM tutoring and STEM events throughout Carter County. We want to help college students see the excitement of STEM education by helping younger students with projects like homemade drones, RC boats, a variety of different scale hydroponic systems, toy robots that are controlled by apps on a phone, learning how to build small indoor solar-powered LED lights for plants, how to design websites, and so much more.”

Pierce stated that upcoming events will allow for focus on developing skillsets for innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, material, and tool identification.

This will allow for older college students to guide young students through real-world problems in different industries while helping to fill the need the Tennessee Department of Education seeks to answer with more STEM educators and allowing introduction to future careers at an early age.

The 2015 Unaka High School graduate who has moved cities, changed majors, and began to dream seems to have found his dream becoming a reality with Future Innovator’s mission statement clearly identified as “Engaging, educating and advancing the skillsets of Tomorrow’s Future Innovators.”

According to Pierce, STEM occupations are the fifth fastest-growing industries in the South and the State of Tennessee has a goal of becoming one of the top 25 states for STEM education.

Pierce’s vision in Carter County is to allow the guidance of college-age students and high school students to work with the youth in creating a giveback system setting the younger students up for success long before college.

With Tennessee showing issues such as only 37 percent of Tennessee students meeting ACT benchmark requirements for math and science, Pierce feels his vision can be something that paves the way for more to come.

“Think about it – jobs, industries, and everything relies on talent. Imagine the doors that will open in the future for a child who learned how to build homemade drones and create websites from the age of eight,” Pierce said.

“That is years of experience, potential academic competitions we plan to host, job shadowing, and a pathway to fully develop the true understanding of what they want to do in the future long before they reach college.

“Not only that, with the guidance, resources, connections, and skillsets development, we could begin to see local entrepreneurship thrive with new products and business ideas coming to flourish. All by a spark with STEM education activities that shift everything for our region,” Pierce said with pure excitement in his voice.

Pierce was asked to describe some of the events that were planned for Carter County in regards to STEM.

“Well, the plans with working with Carter County Drug prevention is to host open free STEM events that way kids at the South Hills Estate location and anyone can come and take part in the events,” he said. “We will start doing online signups to be prepared for how many students to work with and not be overwhelmed.

“The goal is to start with teaching the simple fundamentals of STEM education projects like wiring RC motors, power switches, mechanical skills, and other stuff together. Then we will build off of that and start developing both individual and team STEM activities.

“For example, we can teach kids an agricultural issue of water conservation by building water irrigation projects for small flowers in pots. Then we can expand into using the wiring lessons for the kids to build solar-powered LED lights on a small scale to where the small 2 inch solar panels power these DIY stem lights for the plants,” Pierce continued.

“Later on, we will expand this into a creative team project. We also have the idea of showing kids how to build websites and letting them create something with it, working in teams for creating magazine websites, online journals about the community, business websites, or whatever they wish to do.”

He added that he was excited to also expand into larger projects such as building battle bots and working with the EHS agricultural club in expanding the South Hill Estate raised gardens into an amazing agricultural project.

Other projects may include small DIY projects like wireless DIY drones, or remote-controlled RC cars, a home light generator, small solar water pumps for the raised gardens, a table water fountain, LED indicators for bicycles, and other small projects.

“We want to engage the kids and see what they want to learn,” Pierce added. “Focus on the State standards but let the kids have a say in what they would like to build later on.”

Mr. Pierce said he is so thankful for the community, local business owners, the Main Street Program, and everyone who has done something to help guide and assist him in making these STEM events and the connections made become possible.

He said it is truly a blessing to be able to work with the Carter County Drug Prevention and Red Legacy to have STEM events at the South Hills estate starting after the First Friday Downtown event, in which he wanted to thank the Elizabethton Arts Alliance for letting him sit up at their event location to have open stem activities before the events at the community center at South Hills estate.

“We also had a huge response for future STEM events with the Coffee company and I’m hoping to do more activities like this at other businesses,” Pierce commented. “We also have some plans for showing parents how to do STEM projects at home with Red Legacy.”

Pierce also wanted to thank all the local businesses that donated amazing prizes for the raffle drawings to raise money for all the STEM events coming up as well.

“We have a strong community, large cities don’t have the hometown atmosphere of your parents going to your high school for sporting rivals but being friends or knowing most of all the community,” Pierce said. “We are on a huge upswing of businesses opening, events expanding, and COVID made one thing possible.

“The moment to stand together and know in life’s chaos, the Bridge never falls for what our community is as one!”

Before finalizing his STEM events for the county, Pierce sought input from the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network.

“They said they like the style of structure I have with Future Innovators to hire college students and focus on real-life issues for STEM education,” Pierce stated. “That this could help grow the number of STEM educators and transition into my plans for after-school STEM programs and clubs easily.

“It helps education majors grow their background in STEM education and engineer majors see the side of education with kids. They said that once I get the STEM events started and a foundation made that they would come out and watch the activities and then see about any potential connections, assistance, sponsorship, or even a partnership.

“The details of all of that are based on how the activities and focus on state standards are followed.”

Pierce added that he had high hopes for following up with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network and scheduling meetings with the Tennessee Department of Education to apply for grants to advance the free STEM activities throughout the region for more community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and local business events.

‘The main focus with the grants will focus on starting after-school STEM programs and clubs,” he said. “The goal there is to work into dual enrollment classes and even certification programs like solar system installation and similar programs.”

To find out how to be more involved, check out the Facebook page of Future Innovators or just google search ‘Pure Legacy Future Innovators’ and check out the second Daytime Tricities interview on April 23rd at 10 am for more details.

“Remember, every idea comes from somewhere, you never know what skill sets and guidance can do for one idea to become an amazing reality,” Pierce said in closing.