Berkshires heighten focus on STEM programs


STEM will be springing up all over Berkshire County in the coming months.

The acronym for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM is increasingly used to refer to movements promoting education, workforce development and careers relating to these fields.

Christopher Himes, STEM program manager for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, said in Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray are strong proponents of developing STEM careers in the commonwealth.

"They've decided to start funding regional programs to increase STEM education, from pre-K through Grade 16, what they consider into college," Himes said.

This week the state also announced that Massachusetts has been selected as a leading state and partner in the "100Kin10" movement ( The organization's mission is to respond to President Barack Obama's goal of providing 100,000 new, highly qualified STEM teachers over 10 years as outlined in his 2011 State of the Union address.

Locally, schools, businesses and organizations have been working together through what is known as the Berkshire STEM Pipeline Network, one of six similar regional networks of people in the state working to create programs, curricula and other opportunities for the improvement and promotion of STEM education for students and teachers.

One such opportunity that has been continuously well-attended is the Massachusetts Region 1 High School Science and Engineering Fair. It will take place on Friday in the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium, on the MCLA campus. The public is invited to view approximately 55 projects created by about 80 students from nine schools between the Western Massachusetts region of Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties.

"It's important to see what these students can do. Some projects can lead to the development of patents or really significant findings," said Himes.

"Participation in the science fair is one way to engage students in sciences, and an opportunity for students to connect with experts in their field of study and to learn about career opportunities in the STEM fields," said Monica Joslin, MCLA dean of academic affairs. She said that 60 volunteers, all experts in their fields, will serve as judges for the event.

The Region I high school fair is just one of several STEM-related opportunities for students and teachers happening this spring and summer.

On Saturday, March 23, with support from the Berkshire Applied Technology Council, the annual Berkshire County Robotics Challenge will be held at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. This year's theme is "Senior Solutions." Thirty-five teams of elementary and middle school students will be using Lego robotics systems to demonstrate ways to aid the lives of senior citizens.

Also happening this spring will be a Western Massachusetts region middle school science fair, a teacher training program with educators from the Boston Museum of Science, and also some programs for parents about how to engage and find resources for students interested in STEM fields.

Himes said MCLA will also be rolling out a new STEM Academy program in August. The weeklong specialized summer orientation program will be offered to incoming MCLA freshmen who are interested in pursuing a degree in a STEM field.

"We want to influence the success of college students, as well as those in the K-12 grades," Himes said.

More about STEM ..

New STEM terms

Also on the horizon are three other terms that are becoming more commonly used:

DIGITS is a program that pairs STEM professionals with sixth-grade classrooms throughout the state to introduce students to STEM subjects, career opportunities and attributes and benefits of working in a STEM career.

STEAM evolves from STEM and stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. The idea is to incorporate STEM into the arts field and the arts into STEM instruction and programs.

"Next Generation Science Standards" are akin to the Common Core standards for English language arts and math being implemented in Massachusetts schools this year. The Next Generation Science Standards are currently being developed by educators to improve and raise the bar on how states in the U.S. teach science subjects. The new standards are expected to be completed this month. 

STEM events in Berkshire County:

A public viewing of the Massachusetts Region 1 High School Science and Engineering Fair projects and keynote address by Pat Muraca, president and CEO of Nuclea Biotechnologies in Pittsfield, will be held Friday at 1:30 p.m. The event will be held in the Amsler Campus Center gymnasium at MCLA in North Adams.

Forty finalists from this fair will be selected to advance to the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair, to be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), May 2 through 4. There, students will have an opportunity to advance to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, to be held in Pittsburgh, Pa., May 13 through 18.

On March 23, the annual Berkshire County Robotics Challenge will be held at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, beginning at 9 a.m.

Bridging Engineering, Science, & Technology (BEST) for elementary educators will be hosting a professional developments session at MCLA on April 25, from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Western Mass Regional Middle School Science and Engineering Fair will be held April 27 at MCLA.

Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair's Educator Day at MIT will be held May 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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