Churches asked to preach technology

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2011

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”
— Carl Sagan
Elizabeth Cook
KANNAPOLIS — The photo in Lisa Wear’s handout was a science educator’s dream come true.
Roger Matthews, wearing an apron and eye protection, watches as his 8-year-old daughter, Diamond Stanford, carefully measures out a liquid.
In Diamond’s grasp is a micropipettor, a tool used in biotechnology to measure and dispense liquids containing DNA samples, proteins and other biological compounds.
That, Wear said, is an example of the kind of family and community partnerships that can help young people strive for opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM
“We as a community can find other ways to make that happen,” said Wear, director of Horizons Unlimited, a part of the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Wear was speaking at a meeting of the Cabarrus Rowan Community STEM Initiative last week at the N.C. Research Campus.
Leaders of the initiative had invited members of faith-based organizations and other nonprofits to meet at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Biotechnology Building. About 20 organizations were represented.
The setting was no accident.
The Research Campus is bringing good jobs to the region, said Dr. Carol Spalding, president of RCCC — and those jobs require high skills in STEM.
“We want our folks to get those jobs,” she said.
Churches in Rowan County may soon start preaching the importance of STEM if the conversation from that meeting last Wednesday gains momentum.
Getting faith-based organizations to encourage youth to study STEM was one of the tactics discussed.
Students often think of these subjects as beyond their capabilities — a misconception, according to STEM Initiative leaders.
They asked for help raising students’ aspirations to study STEM subjects, earn diplomas and pursue 21st century careers.
“We cannot lose another generation,” Spalding said.
Last August, Spalding signed an agreement with the N.C. STEM Community Collaborative to develop an initiative here.
Deedee Wright, representing the West End Community, asked why the group was just now — a year later — including faith-based groups and community organizations.
At first the local group was uncertain, responded Dari Caldwell, one of the leaders of the local initiative and director of Rowan Regional Medical Center. She and others went away from the initial STEM meeting unsure of what it was, what to do and who would pay for it.
They figured out that the STEM initiative was about building community partnerships and finding creative ways to engage youth in learning STEM skills.
For example, she said, church youth groups and Bible schools might be able to use STEM activities and messages. Maybe the initiative could get some traction there.
“We’re trying to identify pockets of the community that would be important to bring in,” Caldwell said.
Valarie Stewart, director of community and governmental engagement at Rowan Regional, urged those at the meeting to reach out.
“Ask your minister, ‘Can we talk about STEM?’ ” she said. “Put the word on the tongues of our community. Until we do that, we’re going to find ourselves in a community of ignorance.”
New mission?
Could this be a new mission field for area churches — encouraging young people to reach for the stars in STEM?
If so, the churches will need to reach beyond their congregations, said Dr. Ron Hash of Love Christian Center in East Spencer. “So many of our young people don’t attend church,” he said.
Some churches are already holding academic camps. Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church and Westside Community Foundation in Salisbury are in the midst of a summer enrichment program that includes daily math and reading exercises, field trips and lessons in healthy lifestyles and social development.
The camp is for at-risk students in grades K-6.
Jean Lowery, a coordinator of the program, said she had also thought about doing a math and science academy.
Churches that want to get involved directly in the schools may have to go through the chain of command.
Dr. Becky Smith of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools said at the meeting that about 78 churches have partnered with the system’s 35 schools. As assistant superintendent for curriculum, she works with Communities in Schools to coordinate all faith-based efforts in the schools.
“We would love for you to be involved,” Smith told the church representatives. “Principals are eager to build partnerships.”
Dr. Judy Grissom, Rowan-Salisbury’s superintendent, attended the meeting and voiced support. “We need as many churches we can get,” she said afterward, “and get as many organizations involved as we can.”
Tech demonstrations
Wear, the Horizons Unlimited director, gave the group a presentation on the STEM resources available through the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
One was the Technology Matters event where Wear snapped the photo of Matthews and his daughter back in May. Each using a classroom at North Rowan High School, the schools invited the public to see demonstrations of how they use technology.
STEM opportunities in the coming school year include family workshops, summer science academies, science fairs, student internships, research facilities and mentors, planetarium programs, professional development for teachers, community programs, after-school programs and clubs, and 30 STEM programs.
Wear said eighth-graders who go through the Biotechnology Career Academy get excited about the future workforce. It’s something they have not thought about before, she said.
Athletic meetings
Henry Diggs, pastor of Faith Temple Triumphant Ministries, said after the meeting that the group would need to get with parents, possibly through the PTA — and even work to get the word out through sports programs. “That’s where it will really take off, I think,” Diggs said.
In athletic meetings, they could show young people how STEM is important and make it interesting, he said.
Diggs’ church meets at Isenberg Elementary School and already does volunteer work at the school.
Joann Diggs said she was interested in getting STEM programs into Head Start preschool classes. As interim director of the Salisbury Rowan Community Action Agency, she oversees Head Start in several counties and other community programs.
The 3- to -5-year-olds in Head Start are active and ready to learn, Joann Diggs said — the perfect age to start being introduced to science, technology, engineering and math.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful idea,” she said. “We definitely want to be part of it.”
Wright said she thought there were still some gaps to fill in the local initiative’s approach. Sororities, fraternities and other community organizations could be brought to the table, she said.
When it comes to the schools, she said, there’s a lot that needs to be done to boost test scores, especially at Knox Middle School in Salisbury. State test results put Knox at the “low performing” level — one of only 13 low performing schools in the state.
“That’s another seminar,” Wright said.
What others say:
President Barack Obama, during a visit to North Carolina:  “Today, only 14 percent of all undergraduate students enroll in what we call the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math,” Obama said at the headquarters of Cree, a Durham-based company that uses LED technology to produce fuel-efficient lighting. “We can do better than that. We must do better than that. If we’re going to make sure the good jobs of tomorrow stay in America, stay here in North Carolina, we need to make sure all our companies have a steady stream of skilled workers to draw from.”
— Washington Post

Paul Otellini,  president and chief executive of Intel Corp.: Education Department data show that overall college graduation levels the past two decades have grown about 50 percent, with the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded increasing from 1.1 million in 1990 to 1.6 million in 2010. During that same period, however, the National Center for Education Statistics has found that the number of engineers U.S. colleges and universities annually send into the workforce has virtually stagnated at around 120,000.
“By contrast, roughly 1 million engineers a year graduate from universities in India and China. This education disparity threatens to slow our economic recovery, stunts our long-term competitiveness and leaves technology firms in a skills crisis.”
— Washington Post

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson,  ranking member, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology:?According to the Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. currently ranks 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries. Though our best STEM students have no trouble competing with their international peers, on average, our K-12 students continue to lag far behind their international peers in math and science aptitude.  … Equally troubling are the significant achievement gaps at every level between white and minority students.  The NAEP reported that, on a zero to 300 scale, black fourth-graders and eighth-graders scored an average of 36 points lower than their white counterparts and black 12th-graders scored an average of 34 points lower than their White counterparts.

Baltimore Sun education blogger Erica Green:?With the district increasing its focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, more than $500,000 was spent to have a four-week, project-based learning summer program in 22 elementary schools this year. The programs will continue into the school year, and expand to 10 more schools. … City school officials said the goal is to have more city students getting their hands dirty and having their curiosity piqued at an earlier age. The district also needs to ensure that the subject is being taught consistently throughout students’ educational careers, as science has taken a back seat to the math and reading skills that are tested …
— The mean annual wage for all STEM occupations in 2009 was $77,880, and only 4 of the 97 STEM occupations had mean annual wages below the U.S. average of $43,460.
The highest-paying STEM occupations in May 2009 had mean annual wages of $100,000 or more, and included all of the managerial STEM occupations, petroleum engineers, and physicists.  Natural science managers was the highest-paying STEM occupation with a mean annual wage of $127,000.