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STEM Academy gets $47K grant from Walmart

Springfield-based school wants to boost female participation.

Funding and interest from female students are two areas that the Global Impact STEM Academy addressed at a luncheon Friday.

Founding Director Josh Jennings and the STEM Academy received one of its largest donations to date, a $47,000 grant presented by the Walmart Foundation through the Springfield Foundation. The money will be used to engage and educate more middle school and high school girls about the academic and career advantages and opportunities a STEM career offers.

“We saw that only 20 percent of women graduating from college with bachelor degrees were in STEM-related fields, and even less were in jobs related to STEM fields,” said Jennings.

A STEM curriculum stresses classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and uses a problem-based approach to teaching.

“We looked to see where the disconnect was, and we found it started to fail around middle-school age,” Jennings said.

So the STEM Academy will use the grant to hold a series of local events this spring and early summer that feature professionals who have built successful careers in STEM fields.

The donation came during a luncheon and industry forum at Clark State Community College’s Learning Resource Center on Friday, hosted by the school and State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield.

Erik Hingst, director of Walmart Public Affairs for Ohio, said that a STEM-based approach that employs precision agriculture has “transformed the way we look at farming.” Thus it hits two of the main focuses of an outreach program that topped $1 billion in contributions in the U.S. in 2012: hunger relief and women’s professional advancement.

Guest speaker Dr. Bruce McPherson, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State University,spoke of misconceptions about STEM fields.

“For years, people thought agriculture was cows and plows,” said McPherson. “But the fact is, it’s chemistry and physics and international business as well.

“We’re going to have to, in our lifetime, feed 9 billion people with less land and water. How do you do that?”

He spoke of technology that makes rubber out of dandelions, and joked about how this field allows its students and workers to “play with your food” in order to answer that question.

“Ohio is one of the top states in the food industry,” said McPherson. “We’re thinking creatively. We’re focusing on how to create the knowledge to do these things, and how to find the employees for companies who can do it.”

Widener, the main force behind the Global Impact STEM Academy since its inception, spoke specifically to some of those prospective employees in attendance Friday — the students.

“The idea was to get you with people … who you will ultimately see in college and the work force,” he said. “We need more of you coming to this school next year, and we obviously need your help in marketing the school, and you are doing that. We greatly appreciate what you are doing at the school, and being a part of history as part of its first class.”

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