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Knox County STEM Academy pioneering new ventures in historic setting

Set in a building that served for a century as a transportation hub for the region, on a site that brought the world to the "scruffy little city" in 1982 for a Worlds Fair, the Knox County Schools STEM Academy prepares to lead the region on a new journey to serve the future.


Thank you . . .

Thank you's to the donors who are supporting our efforts with significant contributions:

Randy Boyd, local businessman (Pet Safe) contributed 100 iPad2s for students (and also 100 more that are divided into labs in Sarah Moore Greene and Pond Gap).

ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities) donated $25,000 toward iPad purchases.

ProVision Health donated $500,000

BW-Y12 Plant in Oak Ridge (part of the National Lab system) donated $400,000. 

The ProVision and BW-Y12 donations will go toward technology purchases and renovations of lab spaces in the Depot building.
Becky Ashe, who serves the dual role as principal of the new STEM academy and as STEM Coordinator for Knox County Schools, sees the former transportation hub as once again being a center of influence for the region and perhaps even the nation.

"This job's responsibilities include setting up the first STEM magnet school, then turning my attention to disseminating best practices in STEM education across the whole PK-12 system," said Ashe. "The position will eventually involve the STEM Network Hub for our region." The STEM regional hub is part of the Race to the Top funding awarded the state of Tennessee by the Federal government.

"We will continue toward the Strategic Plan indicator of branding Knox County Schools as a STEM district," she added.

Ashe hopes to achieve the first goal - regional hub - within the first three years and then work to make the academy a national model in five years.

Why is STEM important?
"STEM is important because it is not an educational issue, but an economic one," explains Ashe. "Thomas Friedman pointed out in The World is Flat, Hot, and Crowded (2007), America is losing its edge as a leader in innovation.  Along with the outsourcing of manufacturing and low-level technology jobs has been the outflow of ideas from American-educated foreigners who return to their native countries and put to use what they've learned."   She points out the only way for the U.S. to compete is to refocus our efforts not just on competing with foreign development, but to once again lead the world in research and development "like the days of the Apollo missions and creation of IBM, Apple, and other world-changing technology companies".

We've moved past the Information Age
"We are no longer in the 'information age,'", said Ashe. "That era is behind us now." she cites Daniel Pink's work A Whole New Mind (2005), in which he describes the next iteration of global competition as the knowledge age/economy, as opposed to the information age which we are leaving. 

"His point is that for the last two decades, it was all about getting equal access to information," she explains.  "The people with the information could predict future trends and innovate for it.  By comparison, the knowledge age/economy is the ability of the group to take the information and do something with it." 

Ashe points out that this is also the difference between information and knowledge.  STEM education is well-suited for the transition to knowledge economies because it emphasizes the applications of content knowledge from all disciplines as part of the design process to create new technologies and innovations to solve current and future real-world problems.

Workforce must meet global challenges
The President has twice called for a plan to grow STEM workforces across our country in his State of the Union addresses in order to meet this new global challenge.  He has called his plans "Change the equation" and "All hands on deck."  In both initiatives, the importance of creating a workforce with heightened problem solving skills, ability to work collaboratively in research environments, and apply trans-disciplinary thinking to challenges has been identified as being paramount to our country's present and future success.  According to the Tennessee Department of Labor, in the next decade, 7 out of 10 new jobs will be in a STEM field.

And then with a typical cheerful grin, she adds. "And STEM is important because it is fun!"





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