Planting roots in STEM education for 7,500 middle school students

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It’s no secret that the energy industry in Michigan is growing. Combined with an estimated 50 percent of employees in Michigan’s energy industry being eligible for retirement in the next five years, demand for students educated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will remain high for many years to come.

With that backdrop, the DTE Energy Foundation and Cranbrook Institute of Science have partnered to provide nearly 7,500 middle school students with hands-on, immersive STEM and environmental science outreach programs in Detroit, Ecorse, Trenton and River Rouge schools. The program, called the DTE People Power Place Outreach Initiative, traveled to Boyd Arthurs Middle School in Trenton.

“We have got a huge transition of employees in all of the skilled trades, so trying to get students attracted to the STEM fields and helping them understand how they apply to technical fields as they move further is going to help all companies as we start to recruit new employees in the future,” said Trevor Lauer, president and COO, DTE Electric.

While acknowledging that many students will not go into STEM focused careers, superintendent of Trenton Public Schools Rodney Wakeham says that knowing the basics of STEM is going to be an important part of life for all of his students. Giving them a way to learn that is engaging is exciting for him and fits with the character of this middle school.

“If you spend some time in our middle school, you’ll see that there is a lot of innovation going on, both in the curriculum that we’re trying to deliver to the students and also in the teaching methods,” said Wakeham.

People Power Place focuses on three thematic areas: electricity, the geology of natural gas, and protecting the environment. Students who participate in the program will have hands-on opportunities using appropriate objects and artifacts from the Institute’s collections. This will provide them the opportunity to interact with oil shale, coal and local bedrock to better understand geology, and witness the power of electricity by building their own simple circuits using light bulbs and buzzers.

Those hands-on experiences help increase science literacy, which happens to be something the director of Cranbrook Institute of Science, Dr. Michael Stafford is passionate about. He notes the need for young women to be encouraged to dive into STEM education is important because they often believe it is not a natural fit for them.

“This is particularly important for young women, who often times don’t feel careers in science are for them,” Stafford said. “The reality is that you live in a world where science literacy is critical for your success. What better time to start building that literacy than when they are here in middle school.”