STEM future on tap at SXSW

By Christina Acosta

Talia Milgtom-Elcott, founder of 100kin10, took to the stage at Austin’s SXSW EDU to discus the shortage of STEM-qualified teachers. (Photo/ Courtesy)

The country’s top teachers and education experts gathered in Austin for SXSW EDU recently including Talia Milgrom-Elcott, founder of the national STEM teacher-training network 100Kin10.

Milgrom-Elcott explained why “You Can’t Solve What You Don’t Understand,” telling the story behind her organization’s unprecedented effort to combat the challenges that prevent people from choosing careers in teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Despite billions of dedicated dollars, there has been a failure to fix the nation’s public schools, a story familiar to other related critical social issues. The cause ranges from the lack of cultural prestige of teaching careers to the relatively low pay compared to other fields.

“We were able to identify some of the most powerful tools in keeping great teachers,” said Milgrom-Elcott. “One included loan forgiveness and student debt relief. It seems to be more powerful than either salaries or bonuses from our experience. Another has to do with culture and a teacher’s time. It’s not just how we measure memorization, but also encourage creativity.”

In order to fix the problem, 100Kin10, a national network, is currently working to train 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021. With 28 founding partners, the organization brings in over 280 of the nation’s top academic institutions, nonprofits, foundations, companies and government agencies to train and retain.

Originally borne out of President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, the network has now trained an estimated 54,000 teachers and is on track to meet that goal in three years. The organization has grown ten-fold and spurred dozens of collaborations, launched two intensive human-centered design fellowships focused on major challenges and have so far raised $90 million through an innovative funders’ collaborative.

There were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015, representing 6.2 percent of U.S. employment, according to the United States Department of Labor. The U.S. Department of Education cites that by 2020, the number of STEM jobs will have increased between 16 and 62 percent depending on the STEM field.

“There is a clear understanding that STEM skills are growing and lead to higher paying jobs,” continued Milgrom-Elcott. “STEM skills aren’t just about the economy, they are also about helping kids have the tools to fall on those pressing problems ranging from economic inequality, medicine and technology. This generation of kids wants to change the world.”

Photographer: Zack Lane, University Photographer
Among the reasons why many avoid teaching the STEM curriculum is the lure of higher paying jobs outside of education careers in the face of mounting student loan debt. (Photo/ Courtesy)

San Antonio has taken the duty to become one of the biggest cities to maintain STEM by implementing a focus on the curricula as early as middle school. Schools including Judson JSTEM, NEISD STEM Academy, School of Science and Technology San Antonio start as early as sixth grade.

In fall 2017, CAST Tech High School opened it’s doors to 150 ninth graders in the fall semester. The curriculum focuses on cyber security, coding, gaming, animation and digital media. The City of San Antonio and Bexar County also awarded the high school $500,000.

CAST Tech will offer college coursework embedded in the curriculum, internships, job shadowing, mentoring, summer job opportunities, guaranteed interviews for graduates and project-based learning.  Students will graduate with a high school diploma and 30 hours of college coursework. They also have the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree and industry-recognized certificates. The Southwest School Independent School District (SWISD) will start their first classes in August 2018.

Alamo Academies, a part of Alamo Colleges based at St. Philip’s College, carries a nationally acclaimed dual-credit program. It provides college-level training to top high school students in advanced technology, including cyber security, aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is among the nation’s top two graduate programs in cyber security, according to a 2016 ranking by UTSA was also awarded $3 million by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and deliver training for information-sharing between the private sector and the U.S. government through the Continuing Training Grants (CTG) Program.

With San Antonio ahead of the STEM field curve, Milgrom-Elcott not only hopes that the system continues to thrive, but to get students into the education field.

“Kids are in school with teachers everyday of the work week,” said Milgrom-Elcott. “They talk and listen to the teachers; and if the teachers are not happy in their jobs, the kids are going to know. We need to make sure that teachers are doing the best work of their lives and are encouraging that this is a profession and feel like they are contributing meaningfully.”

For more information, visit the 100Kin10 homepage.







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