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Georgia Tech-Savannah Expands its Reach to Rural Communities

Implementation of STEM/STEAM curriculum for young students provides pathways for future careers in technology and engineering

Georgia Tech-Savannah has a strong mission to not only be an educational hub for learners of all ages, but to extend its reach beyond its walls to support the development of our region, state and beyond. One way to achieve this is by educating and inspiring the future scientists, engineers and workforce of Georgia by providing them with a greater understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from an early age.  These programs take place through the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC) on campus or through virtual outreach.

The CEISMC program at Georgia Tech-Savannah collaborates with K-12 students and teachers to strengthen pathways to STEM careers and improve appreciation for, diversity, and performance in STEM fields. In the past year, CEISMC has outreached STEM/STEAM programming in a variety of ways to surrounding rural counties including Bryan, Effingham, Evans and Dougherty, through virtual teaching to training educators on how to amplify their curriculum.

From intensive, innovative professional development for educators to highly engaging STEM in-school and extracurricular STEM experiences for K-12 students, CEISMC offer programs that take advantage of the resources and expertise of the Georgia Tech community.  Annually, their K-12 programs impact more than 1,000 students and 80 teachers, and now the program is further expanding its reach to rural communities across Georgia to provide their students with high-quality STEAM-based programming.

For students in Dougherty County, Georgia Tech Savannah and Atlanta campuses partnered with GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Potential) to provide a group of local high school students with CEISMC’s high-level STEAM virtual workshops at no cost to the students through GEAR UP.

GEAR UP, an initiative that supports after-school and Saturday enrichment-based programming designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education, Dougherty Director, Dr. Alana Simmons, learned of CEISMC’s virtual STEM/STEAM offerings and hoped her students could be involved to be introduced to STEAM education and career opportunities.

Timothy Cone, CEISMC Program Director at the Georgia Tech-Savannah campus, and Sirocus Barnes, CEISMC Student Programs Director at the Georgia Tech-Atlanta campus, developed a 15-session program from February – May 2021 for 8th and 9th grade students who were members of the GEAR UP cohort.

The initiative involved both campuses which allowed Georgia Tech the opportunity to extend access to programming that otherwise would have been delivered on campus. Students had not travelled to Savannah or Atlanta before for these STEAM learning events. The virtual program provided over 200 students with school materials and project packets that were mailed to their house before the sessions. There were virtual instructors providing an inclusive learning environment where students were able to explore advanced programming centered around Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.

CEISMC and GEAR UP coordinated a field trip to Atlanta on Aug. 3, 2021 where students were able to explore the Georgia Tech campus and experience the technology they learned about during the program. CEISMC and GEAR UP plan to continue their partnership through virtual programs and opportunities to visit the main campus.

“Everyone in Dougherty County has been so thankful for this opportunity with Georgia Tech. We sent out a survey to the students afterwards, and we got an outpouring of responses saying that everyone in Dougherty County should have access to this type of learning. I cannot say enough good things about Georgia Tech – the team has been very accommodating and has gone out of their way for the students to be more than satisfied with the program,” said Dr. Alana Simmons, Dougherty County School System GEAR UP Director.

CEISMC not only provided education for rural students, but also for educators in Evans County to help the implement STEAM and STEM curriculum. Together, Claxton Middle School and CEISMC successfully applied for a Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) grant. This grant facilitated training for teachers, administrators, and instructional coaches in project-based learning (PBL) through Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Integrated To Unlock Potential (AMP-IT-UP) modules, as well as purchasing the tools and equipment needed for these projects.

During this training, CEISMC took the staff through an introduction to project-based learning and how to incorporate it into their courses, regardless of subject matter. The trainers demonstrated in-depth walkthroughs of select AMP-IT-UP modules, which are designed to promote workforce development and to identify and cultivate the next generation of creative STEM innovators. In addition to learning how to implement the selected modules, they provided additional examples of PBL content and how to create it for 6-8th grade. As a result of the professional learning, teachers created units that immersed students in hands-on learning and exposure to STEM/STEAM curricula.

Samantha Keyfauver, Instructional Technology Coordinator and Science Instructional in Evans County, commented on the experience of collaborating with Georgia Tech-Savannah: “We were so thankful to be able to get this grant and work with Georgia Tech. The level of expertise they brought was next level and unprecedented. When we originally wrote the grant, we thought we would just get the modules and integrate them, but the Program Director was there with us every step of the way. I would highly recommend the partnership and the collaborative relationship to other school districts. Georgia Tech has been instrumental in helping us move forward with our goal of implementing PBL.”

CEISMC’s outreach is only growing as they have recently been awarded $290,000 funding by Georgia’s Department of Education through their BOOST Grant Program. This grant, which is facilitated through CARES funding, will be allocated over three years, will enable Georgia Tech-Savannah to extend access to their Saturday STEM/STEAMlabs and summer programs to the rural Georgia community.  The funding will help K-12 students in rural communities overcome barriers to participation including registration and transportation costs. CEISMC and Georgia Tech-Savannah offers high-quality and uniquely themed programs for K-12 students that are designed to inspire and enrich curiosity and enthusiasm for science, mathematics, engineering, art, and technology. Students can have fun while learning through experiments, hands-on activities, creative projects, and more.

“To be able to provide rural communities with higher-level learning has truly been a gratifying experience for us here at Georgia Tech. Oftentimes, students in rural communities do not have access to this type of learning, and it is essential in order for them to thrive in future careers in technology and engineering. We hope to spark new interest and creativity within these students, and we are committed to continue reaching as many rural communities as possible,” said Timothy Cone, CEISMC Program Director at the Georgia Tech-Savannah campus.

For more information about CEISMIC’s programs, please visit: www.ceismc.gatech.edu/savannah/studentprograms.