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STEM Program Attracts Parents Looking for Guidance

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Many scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other technology professionals are getting serious about making sure more American students will be following in their career footsteps.

That's why a group of them volunteered in a Dec. 9 "STEMpowerment" workshop that attracted 225 Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., parents intent on giving their children guidance to align them with a future in those areas.

Sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., the event was "designed to encourage parents of 8th graders to support their children in STEM," according to Dwight Carr, the lab's STEM program coordinator.

Shannon Faye, mother of an 8th grade Greenbelt Middle School student, in Greenbelt, Prince George's County, MD, said attending the program accomplished what she was hoping it would.

Faye learned from the professionals and from parents in attendance that it's important to keep your children on track with the STEM subjects. "If they're more prepared, they're more likely to stay enrolled in the STEM program," she said. The information validated some of what she and her husband are emphasizing with their son, and gave them ideas about what more they can do.

"We're Muslim; when the first Muslim went to space, my son said he wants to be the second one. ... My husband is a systems engineer; my son took an interest in this, and we are right here near NASA," she said, referring to the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"We are still trying to connect the dots with [our son] about how math can enable him to do some of the cool things that he would like to play with and do," she said.

Carr said he spoke with one woman who drove 70 miles to attend the afternoon program. "It was worth every mile," she told him.

While Faye is herself a STEM professional who sees first-hand the shortages of qualified professionals in the area, many parents in attendance were less informed about the opportunities, and need, for qualified professionals in the sciences and math. The demand is documented in "Entrepreneurs to America: Send Us More Geeks," an article from Inc. magazine.

At STEMpowerment, Carr said the idea was to have professionals explain the obstacles they faced. "People assume that those who go into engineering, science or mathematics do so because they're naturally good at it. In many cases, it's because they were encouraged," he said. "We wanted to make sure our professionals had an opportunity to shed light on how they got where they are, so parents would be encouraged and know to encourage their kids to take a similar route." A concurrent workshop was held in Spanish with Spanish-speaking STEM professionals.

Beyond the workshop, the lab recently launched a STEM website that provides information, tools and activities for students, teachers and parents. It features a comic strip called "Fifth Period," introducing a cast of teenage characters engaged in quirky and creative STEM-related activities and experiments. The website is designed to have fresh information regularly and to make learning fun.

To read the latest about how U.S. math and students measure up, check out Erik W. Robelen's Education Week article, "U.S. Math, Science Achievement Exceeds World Average."

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