STEM Center working to change the educational equation in R.I.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee
At the invitation of the R.I. STEM Center at Rhode Island College, approximately 20 state leaders in education, politics and business – including Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Charles Fogarty, director of the Department of Labor and Training – met in the President’s Dining Room on Tuesday, Feb. 22, to discuss the future of education in Rhode Island.

The R.I. STEM center is the state’s hub for science, technology, engineering and mathematics educator training and initiatives.

“We want all our stakeholders at the table,” said Mary Sullivan, director of the R.I. STEM Center, who spent much of the meeting getting feedback about what businesses are looking for in regards to STEM education and the labor force.

The consensus among business leaders was that job candidates in the state should have an intuitive and pragmatic understanding of STEM concepts, which they said, is currently lacking. The representatives also said they are looking for innovative approaches to problem solving and for people with international outlooks.

Mary Sullivan

Chafee maintained his support for the STEM programs at Rhode Island College as a way of fostering the long-term economic health of the state.

“We need to get the economy going again,” Chafee said, “so we can get funds flowing back to higher education...that’s the top priority, higher education.”

Sullivan also announced the creation of the new Change the Equation – R.I. initiative, which is based on a national initiative of the same name, designed to align existing corporate efforts in STEM with those of the educators teaching students and other STEM stakeholders.

According to Sullivan, the initiative has been tailored to Rhode Island’s needs with the focus of the program shifting from large national corporations to smaller and mid-sized innovative companies because of the state’s business demographics.

The initiative is also supported by large local companies such as Amgen, Raytheon and Verizon.

“It’s important to begin to build a core network of innovative companies and companies who have had involvement with STEM and gain their support,” said Sullivan. “Involving others will make Change the Equation – RI an important contributor to education [in the state],” said Sullivan.

The Feb. 22 meeting was the beginning of a dialogue that Sullivan wants the STEM Center to continue. The STEM Center will be hosting its first annual conference on May 6.

A business representative discusses education at the Feb. 22 meeting.
“The qualities that business articulates that it needs and what is happening in schools right now need better alignment,” said Sullivan. “The STEM Center, by hosting the conference, is creating the opportunity for the conversation [between STEM stakeholders] to begin.”

The R.I. STEM Center is a centralized resource for STEM educators and provides many programs aimed at improving STEM literacy among Rhode Island’s children.