Nearly 90 percent of Berkshire County sixth-grade public school students are learning about careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, through a statewide program.
The program called DIGITS partners volunteer professionals in these fields with sixth-grade classes to increase students' interests in math and science subjects and careers.
First implemented in Massachusetts schools in 2009, DIGITS was offered as a pilot program in five Berkshire County schools last year. This year, the program expanded to involve 13 schools in Cheshire, Clarksburg, Dalton, Florida, Great Barrington, Lee, North Adams, Pittsfield and Williamstown.
"Every time we send a volunteer into the classroom, we have the possibility to catch students' attention," said DIGITS CEO Joyce L. Plotkin.
She said volunteers are broadly reflective of the workforce -- 44 percent are women, 24 percent are minorities, and 56 percent have advanced degrees.
In Berkshire County, students and volunteers discussed careers in animation, broadcasting, engineering, health care, manufacturing, printing and publishing, web design and software.
Berkshire Medical Center, ESPN, General Dynamics, Hill Engineers-Architects-Planners, Interprint, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, New England Newspapers, and WebArtNTech, provided 16 STEM professionals, four of whom participated last year, to visit sixth-graders.
Statewide, about 1 in 5 students participated in the 2012-13 DIGITS program, or about 15,637 students, which included about 187 volunteer career presenters. More than half of these students are in high-needs Title I schools.
This year, a new online portfolio, DVD and a special LinkedIn network were offered to help teachers take concepts introduced to students during the volunteer visit and explore them year-round with lesson plans and other activity ideas that are offered.
"DIGITS is a piece of the STEM solution and there are a lot of other pieces," said Plotkin.
DIGITS collborates with the Berkshire STEM Network, one of the state's seven regional STEM Networks, to expand the program this year, increasing the number of schools and companies that could provide volunteers to participate in the program.
Monica Joslin, dean of academic affairs at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and chairwoman of the Berkshire STEM Network, said, "Programs such as DIGITS provide a creative way for our students to learn about the broader impact of math and science on the world and inspire students to continue their study of math and science throughout middle school, high school and beyond."