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SummerSTEM 2015 at SAS Institute

This summer, WakeEd Partnership and the Wake County Public School System teamed up with six area businesses and agencies, Wake Technical Community College, and North Carolina New Schools to launch the first SummerSTEM, an opportunity for local teachers to have an immersive experience with local corporations working in the STEM fields.

The exposure allows educators to see, hear, and learn what their students will need to know to be successful in future STEM careers.

“Educators must prepare the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Teresa Pierrie, director of programs for WakeEd Partnership. “How do you do that from the classroom? Well, it really does require stepping out of what is familiar and moving into what is unfamiliar.”

Pierrie said the purpose of SummerSTEM is exposure, from the postsecondary classroom to the corporate board room. The SummerSTEM program not only provides teachers with a chance to spend time in organizations like SAS, RedHat, Biogen, LORD Corporation, National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences, and  N.C. Department of Transportation, but also in the classroom at Wake Technical Community College getting exposure to applied STEM courses.

According to Pierrie, teachers used their time at WakeTech to explore careers like digital gaming, welding, plumbing, and nursing.

“Students need to be engaged in authentic experiences to make connections to the standards taught and to learn skills preparing them for success beyond high school,” said Paul Domenico, director of curriculum enhancement programs in the Wake County Public School System. “Our vision for SummerSTEM is to equip teachers with the tools and knowledge necessary to provide such experiences.”

Teresa Pierrie of WakeEd Partnership Discusses SummerSTEM 2015

A Day at SAS

“We were fortunate that when we asked businesses to partner with us to do SummerSTEM, they stepped up,” said Pierrie. “Businesses understand that it is very important that the workforce they will glean from in the very near future is well-equipped to go into STEM industries.”

“They are opening their doors to us so that educators can see first hand the workflow, the culture, the processes, even the language, that is used in a STEM profession, in a STEM business, and bring that language and those practices back to their classrooms.” 

With SAS as a corporate partner, SummerSTEM participants were given broad access to a leading corporation in the information technology field and the chance to spend a day at a company often ranked as one of the best places to work in the nation.

“Today, these teachers are being educated by SAS professionals who are helping them work hands-on with SAS software,” said Caroline McCullen, director of education initiatives at SAS. “The software that they are working on is freely available to any educator, so they can leave here and go to their classrooms and have their students working on these things that they developed.” 

McCullen said part of the purpose of a program like SummerSTEM is to help educators make connections about how professional software applied in real-world situations can be directly incorporated into their classroom curriculum.

For companies like SAS, partnering in the program is also an investment in a future workforce.

“At SAS, we think it’s important to promote STEM because we know in the future we will experience a breakdown in the pipeline,” said McCullen. “It’s predicted that we will have one million more jobs in computer science than we do graduates in computer science. So this is a real red flag.”

Caroline McCullen of SAS on Educating a Well-Rounded Workforce

Advice from STEM Professionals

Bob Rodriguez, SAS senior director of advanced analytics, began the day by sharing three ways to think about statistics: as a skill for critical thinking, as a problem-solving tool, and as a rewarding STEM career. He briefly described the broad array of industries that use statistics in the work they do every day.

Then educators got a chance to hear from SAS employees on what students needed to know to be successful in the STEM field.

McCullen, the director of education initiatives at SAS, moderated the panel discussion and started off by asking the panelists,”if you had a captive audience of middle-school and high-school students, what is the one thing you would want them to know about preparing for the careers of tomorrow?”

The overwhelming response: Learn good communication skills.

“Communication is critical,” said Marc Huber, a SAS instructor.

“I would encourage middle schoolers to take any opportunity to talk about their projects and explain what they are doing and explain the purpose of what they are doing,”said SAS Research Scientist Lucy Kosturko. “They should be able to explain to different audiences with different levels of background knowledge.” 

Kosturko continued, “As a product designer in curriculum pathways, when I’m talking about a project and when I am telling a developer about it, they have to be able to understand what I am saying and they have to be able to say it back to me, because there’s nothing more frustrating than sitting in a demo and seeing the product you designed and thinking, ‘That’s so wrong.’ That communication piece is so important.”

“You can be the best programmer in the world but if you can’t communicate, it all breaks down.”

Michaiah Coleman, a SAS programmer, encouraged teachers to inspire their students to be risk takers and to avoid the pitfalls of hyper-specialization.

“A lot of students get siloed into one area of expertise and then they get put on a different project or placed with a different group and then they’re just like, ‘I‘m shutting down.'” said Coleman. “There has to be more of an ability to branch out and try a different things [in the workplace] and be excited about it and want to try new things, to take risks.”

SAS University Outreach and Recruiting Manager Kayla Vilwock encouraged teachers to push back against the “geeky” stigma of STEM careers, especially for young females.

“I think teachers have a great ability of translating the real world things you could be doing in STEM,” said Vilwock. “So asking your students, ‘Do you want to work for Twitter one day? Would you want to work for Google? Would you want to work for some of the best companies in there world?’ Well, here’s what you have to do to get there, and a lot of that involves STEM and programming.”

A Crash Course in Energy and Sustainability

From solar power in Australia to wind farms in North Carolina to EPA regulations in Arizona, SAS Business Director for Energy Practice Tim Fairchild lead the teachers on a deep dive into the energy industry, touching on everything from nuclear to coal power to green energy.

Fairchild’s presentation set the context for the data the educators would be working with later in the day. It was also a chance for him to plug the energy field as a top career choice for aspiring STEM students.

Holding up a copy of the “Grand Challenges for Engineering” report, Fairchild said, “A group of really smart people got together and picked the grand challenges of engineering for the 21st century.”  

“I’m delighted to say three of them are energy related: solar energy, energy from fusion, and carbon sequestration,” said Fairchild. “I think this is just an amazing thing. I take this everywhere I go. And when I talk to utility people, I ask them do you know about the grand challenges? I say check it out. Go look it up. Get excited about it. And then go get involved with a STEM program and get high-school students excited about energy.”

A Tour of SAS

Following Fairchild’s presentation, the educators took a guided tour of one of SAS’s LEED Certified buildings and were driven out to the company’s solar farm and given a tour by SAS Environmental Sustainability Program Manager Jerry Williams.

Crunching Data

After lunch with the morning’s panelists, the SummerSTEM 2015 participants got to work analyzing data. With the help of SAS instructors, educators examined energy efficiency data from one of the campus buildings.

The exercise provided teachers with hands-on training in SAS software and a ready-made data set to us in their classrooms.

“Training our teachers in Project Based Learning provides them a vehicle to integrate standards and to create essential questions that are connected to real-world experiences,” said Paul Domenico of the Wake County Public School System. “Having the opportunity to spend two days at different businesses was invaluable for them.”

“To observe engineering, science, and data analysis first hand, educators can make connections to the standards they teach and apply the necessary skills of communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity to the projects they develop.”

“We are fortunate to have committed teachers and business partners in Wake County that are innovative and willing to bring authentic learning experiences to our students,” said Domenico.

For teachers like Carrie Horton of Vernon Malone College and Career Academy, SummerSTEM 2015 provided a new perspective on the relationship between business and education and the affect it can have in the classroom.

“As teachers we often don’t see what businesses are like outside our classroom walls,” said Horton. “We’ve read about them or we’ve seen them on TV, but being able to actually step into that business and see what they do everyday is really powerful for us to take back to our students.”

The best measure of whether SummerSTEM 2015 is a success will be what the teachers do with the information they learned during this school year. To follow up their experience and with support from the WakeEd Partnership, Nate Barilich and Grace Jackson, English teachers at Enloe High School in Raleigh, are hard at work planning a public policy boot camp for 100 students at the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State on October 5. The students will explore literacy and STEM in the context of studying four public policy issues in North Carolina: education, the environment, the economy, and health care. 

Learn more about WakeEd Partnership

Editor’s Note: The SAS Institute and The Goodnight Educational Foundation are supporters of EdNC.


Todd Brantley

Todd Brantley is the senior director of public affairs at The Rural Center. He formerly served as director of policy and research at EducationNC.

He grew up in Randolph County where he attended Farmer Elementary School, Randleman Middle School, and Randleman High School. Todd attended Randolph Community College before graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995. He received a master’s in theological studies from Duke Divinity School in 2002 and a master’s from the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009.

Prior to his work at The Rural Center and EducationNC, Todd also worked as the associate communications director at MDC providing strategic communications support for several programs, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Partners for Postsecondary Success and the Developmental Education Initiative. Todd was part of the writing and research team that produced the 2010 and 2011 State of the South reports. While a graduate student, he interned at The Story with Dick Gordon and was the editor of The Fountain, the alumni magazine for the Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill.

He was part of the research and writing team that received the Governmental Research Association’s 2014 Most Distinguished Research Award for a report on the use of telepsychiatry in rural areas. He was a co-author of How the Triangle Gives Back, a 2008 report that examined local philanthropic and charitable giving in the Research Triangle region. His writing and research has appeared in the Daily Yonder; Insight, a publication of the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research; and NC DataNet, a publication of The Program on Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A native of North Carolina, Todd currently splits his time between Raleigh and Pikeville, where he helps maintain his wife’s family’s farm. He says, “As a product of this state’s systems of public education, from secondary, to the community college system, to our public postsecondary system, I have seen firsthand how important these institutions are for the social and economic wellbeing of this state and its citizens. Regardless of whether you are a new resident or a native, a parent or not, we all benefit from the fruits of our current system of public learning, and the hard work and foresight of those who came before us who understood that, regardless of political affiliation, North Carolina needed to be a national leader in access to quality education for everyone.”