Program to Inspire Great Lakes STEM Careers

Students from six schools in northern Michigan are playing a role in the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) ongoing effort to solve a national problem — the critical shortage of students with skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Through an exciting collaboration between ED, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, these students will conduct scientific observations of the natural environment and take part in hands-on activities to learn the relevance of STEM skills for daily life and careers.

Brethren Middle School, Floyd M. Jewett Elementary, Kaleva Norman Dickson Elementary, Northport Public Schools, Rapid City Elementary, and Traverse City High School are part of ED’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, which provides enrichment opportunities to students during out-of-school time. The ED-NOAA collaboration is part of an initiative that focuses on providing students attending high-need schools to meaningful and authentic STEM learning opportunities. One goal of this initiative is to demonstrate the relevance of STEM skills gained both inside and outside the classroom to students’ lives and communities, thereby raising their interest in STEM and related professions.

In this new program, these schools will be working with Inland Seas Education Association (ISEA) to provide students meaningful watershed educational experiences that exemplify STEM learning. ISEA is using its expertise as a partner in NOAA’s Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program to address watershed issues locally through direct engagement with teachers and students.

Grants from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation support organizations with established NOAA-related environmental education capacity gained through past work with the NOAA B-WET program. These grantees are partnering with 21st CCLC sites nationwide, offering students the opportunity to conduct field studies of local aquatic ecosystems while learning about the importance of environmental stewardship. The students will participate in hands-on, STEM experiences in their communities, studying watershed, ocean, coastal, riverine, estuarine, and Great Lakes ecosystems alongside NOAA scientists.

Beginning in June, the ISEA program, titled 21st Century Great Lakes STEM camp, will deliver meaningful watershed educational experiences to students through the following activities.

  • Drive a professional remotely operated vehicle (ROV) through an underwater challenge course – explore and experience the technology and careers shaping research and industry in the Great Lakes
  • Experience maker space – develop an understanding of buoyancy, circuits, and underwater propulsion in these two sessions by building an underwater ROV
  • Make a paddle board paddle – use math, engineering, and technology skills to create a one-of-a-kind paddle to use in SUP an activity
  • Paddle on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) on the Great Lakes – fall in love with the Great Lakes and develop a desire to protect it for future generations
  • Participate in a Schoolship program – gain an insight into the basic ecology and health of the Great Lakes through hands-on science exploration
  • Engage with NOAA educational resources and tools

“We are excited to provide these unique, engaging, hands-on activities for students aboard our ships in Grand Traverse Bay,” shared Fred Sitkins, Executive Director for ISEA. “While our Schoolship and ROV programs open students’ eyes to potential STEM careers, we also hope these experiences near, in, and on the water will develop a desire in them to protect the Great Lakes for future generations.”