Global Impact celebrating 10 years of STEM education, job training

Hands-on learning focused on ag, bioscience will expand to include aviation and aerospace fields.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Starting a new school from scratch was hard enough. Doing it in the face of some opposition because of the type of school and its location made it even harder.

Now, nearly 10 years later, supporters of the Global Impact STEM Academy (GISA) have plenty of reasons to celebrate the first decade and to look forward to major expansion plans that include a $16 million campus expansion, plus more grade levels and students.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined where Global Impact would be today when we started out in 2013,” said Josh Jennings, founding director and superintendent. “We all deserve to celebrate this significant milestone. But, I can’t help but look toward the next 10 years and beyond. We’re just getting started.”

The academy prepares and trains students for in-demand jobs in fields such as agriculture, food, natural resources and bioscience through a collaborative, hands-on learning environment.

It was created so students and families could have opportunities such as those in bigger cities and to be an economic driver for the community.

In 2012, representatives from partners Springfield City Schools, Clark State College, Wright State University and the Dayton Development Coalition — serving as the regional representative for JobsOhio — signed the articles of incorporation.

GISA officially opened on Aug. 19, 2013, followed by the first day of school on Aug. 21, 2013, on Clark State College’s campus in Shull Hall.

“The concept of Global Impact was born out of the critical need to build Ohio’s workforce pipeline, especially in agriculture,” Jennings said.

With ambitious goals, “There were a lot of times along the way when we were not sure whether or not that we were going to get there, but we did,” he added.

Some educators and community members resisted when the idea was proposed, thinking a STEM school wasn’t needed and the location wasn’t right.

Now, Jennings said, there’s “a healthy competitive aspect of what we’re trying to provide for kids, and that’s really good because we’re all trying to give them as many opportunities as possible.”

“There was some uncertainty and so not everybody was ready to buy into it... What we do is not necessarily the way to do it, it’s a way to do it, and it’s just a way that not many other people are doing it, and that’s OK,” Jennings said.

Initially, officials estimated starting with 200 ninth- and 11th-graders the first year. Instead, Global Impact began with 47 ninth-grade students.

Now, the academy has 665 students enrolled in grades seven through 12. They come from 20 school districts across five counties (Clark, Champaign, Greene, Madison, Montgomery), and 300 more are on the waitlist.

In the beginning ...

Before GISA opened at Clark State, officials were working to renovate 70,000 square feet of the former South High School, which had been vacant since 2008 and is now known as the Springfield Center of Innovation: The Dome.

The first phase of the renovation finished in 2015, the first year students had classes in The Dome. It also was the first year the demand for programming outweighed the capacity to serve students who wanted to attend, as well as the first year for the student lottery for admissions.

“(This) was certainly remarkable for us because when we started in the beginning, we were concerned, could we hit the same targets as an organization that (other cities) were hitting,” Jennings said.

In the fall of 2017, the second phase of the renovation project was completed, and the academy added seventh and eighth grades.

Jennings said the school has grown vastly in 10 years, not only in the number of students and grades offered, but the educational opportunities and extracurriculars available.

Stakeholder in your education

What makes GISA unique, Jennings said, is the culture, having students who want to learn and teachers who want to teach, and the collaborative learning environment.

Senior Haylee Acquah, junior Brady Payton and sophomore Josie Jennings — who each came as seventh-graders — said being exposed to different backgrounds and world views in school has helped.

“I realized the way it was helping me most was exposing me to different perspectives... being able to see the different backgrounds that (other students) have has allowed me to grow as a person and kind of foster being able to work with people more effectively,” Josie Jennings, the superintendent’s daughter, said.

She said teachers want to know how students best learn, then “mold and shape and adapt what they’re teaching to the specific needs of their class.”

Acquah came to the school because she wanted something different and challenging.

“The school let’s you decide how you feel about things. You’re able to figure out who you are as an individual,” she said.

Acquah noted being able to collaborate and connect with classes and teachers is strength.

“It’s sometimes hard to remember that this school is so young and that we’re actually living in this school’s history. To me it gives me more importance that what I’m doing matters,” she said.

Payton said he wanted a fresh start from a traditional school structure.

“The feeling of freedom and being able to choose is what brought me to GISA,” he said. “Being a stakeholder in your education is a huge piece.”

The right plan

GISA parent Lee Ann Ballard has a current sophomore, Evan, and recent graduate, Zoe, and she said she feels they’ve had a well-rounded experience.

“I have been nothing but pleased with the education and opportunities that my children have had,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the level of communication and organization that GISA provides. The counselors, teachers and administrators have been transparent, knowledgeable and helpful with developing the right plan for my children.”

Evan just started college credit plus classes through Clark State, and is projected to earn an associate’s degree and enter college with enough credits to be a junior.

Zoe, who was in the first class of middle school students at Global Impact, graduated last year with an associate’s degree from Clark State and entered with 60 credit hours. She’s on track to graduate from Muskingum University in the spring of 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in health and fitness, and start an atheletics training master’s program in the fall of 2024.

Ballard said the overall benefit she feels her children experienced is the flexibility with their schedule and able to map out their plan based on their goals.

Upper Academy next

Exciting things are on the horizon, Josh Jennings said, including a new facility, serving more students and expanding career paths.

While the original goal hasn’t changed in the past 10 years, he said they still prepare students for careers in ag biosciences through real-world, hands-on learning experiences, it’s grown to include additional career paths to support other industries that are also experiencing a workforce shortage.

The school will build a new 30,000-square-foot facility on Clark State College’s Springfield campus to create an “Upper Academy” for 10-12 grade students who will have access to new classrooms, technology and adjunct faculty. The move will help alleviate capacity restrictions at the current location to serve more students as well as adding 6th graders.

The projected price of the project is $16 million. This includes $3 million from GISA, $4 million through bond funds, $4 million through local financing, and a goal to fundraise the remaining $5 million.

“We have incurred some growing pains in terms of the limitations and capacity of our existing physical space, which is why our new upper academy that will be housed on Clark State’s campus is imperative, so we can continue to provide the same high-quality level of education to which our students, parents and industry partners are accustomed.” Jennings said.

The school plans to also add new career paths in aerospace and aviation technology to help contribute to the workforce development needs in the region.

‘No other school like this’

Horton Hobbs, chair of the GISA board and vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Partnership, said being a part of the organization has been lifechanging for him.

“But when it makes the most difference to me is when I bring up prospective companies through our community, and they’re interested in the food space and they’re interested in workforce issues, I can singularly point to this school as a land lab for them to see how we do education in Clark County,” he said. “This is one of many schools, but there is no other school like this anywhere around... I see it every time I walk through here.”

In the 10 years of operation, Jennings said they’ve hosted roughly 5,000 visitors from over 10 states and four countries.

The school offers programs related to food, fiber, energy and the environment that’s embedded throughout the curriculum and all disciplines. There’s specific coursework in animal and plant bioscience, food science, environmental science for agriculture, food and natural resources, bioresearch, ag business, capstones such as competitive internships, work placement, job shadowing, entrepreneurships, major research and service learning, and fundamentals and exploration of engineering, IT and computer science.

Other components of teaching and learning include integration of mastery learning, project and problem-based learning, and offering authentic, real-world applications of context.

The clubs and activities the school offers include e-sports, 4-H, FFA, drama club and musical, annual study abroad opportunities with specific industry focus on food, fiber, energy and environment, an Alaska trip focusing on environmental sciences, and other various student-let clubs and activities.

A 10-year celebration will be held sometime later in the year, as well as a ceremony for the new facility on Clark State’s campus in the summer.

“It’s an honor to have been a part of the impact we’ve had on students, families, our community, our state, STEM education and the industries about which we’re most passionate over the last 10 years,” Jennings said.


665: Total student enrollment

20: School districts represented

5: Counties represented

50.2%: Male students

49.8%: Female students

24.3%: Economically disadvantaged students

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