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Massachusetts Coalition Launches Innovative Program to Boost Student Interest in Math, Science Careers

In a move to reverse lagging student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, the STEMTech Alliance – an unprecedented coalition of six statewide science and technology associations – today launched an innovative, new program at the Massachusetts STEM Summit in Sturbridge. Called “DIGITS,” the program connects sixth-grade classes with volunteer industry professionals to inspire student interest in STEM careers. It will reach out to sixth-grade classrooms in 568 schools around the Commonwealth over this academic year. Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray will help to kick off the DIGITS program on Monday, Oct. 26 with a visit to a Worcester school.

The DIGITS program, funded by the Department of Higher Education’s STEM Pipeline Fund and in partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was developed by six leading industry associations that comprise the STEMTech Alliance: the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (the lead organization); the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation, affiliated with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council; the Massachusetts Network Communications Council; The Engineering Center; the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council; and the New England Clean Energy Council.

Despite leading the nation in NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) math test scores, Massachusetts ranks below the national average in student interest in STEM careers. According to 2009 SAT data from the College Board, only 22% of all students taking the SAT test in Massachusetts expressed interest in pursuing a college major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as compared to 28% of test takers nationally, and 34% in North Carolina, a region also known for technology leadership.

“It is imperative for the Commonwealth to promote STEM careers and courses of study for our young people,” said Lieutenant Governor Murray, who also chairs the Patrick-Murray Administration’s STEM Advisory Council. “Reports indicate that Massachusetts students actually outpace most of the nation in math and science, yet our students’ interests in STEM fields remain low. Science and technology companies need more students in the STEM pipeline to fill the jobs that are being created now and in the future, and the DIGITS program is a great example that we can use to inspire future leaders in STEM fields.”

“A strong partnership among technology associations, industry professionals, government and schools is the best way to stimulate student interest in math and science education,” said Joyce Plotkin, chair of the STEMTech Alliance, and president emerita of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, Inc. “As a result of the partnership we created in Massachusetts, we were able to develop an exciting new program that will engage students and open their minds to the possibilities of STEM careers. Also, we are pleased that this program will help to lay the groundwork for continued science and technology leadership in the Commonwealth.”

In 2009-2010, DIGITS program volunteers will visit schools by region, according to the following schedule:

  • November – Central Massachusetts
  • December – North Shore
  • January and February – Greater Boston
  • March – Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod
  • April – Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires

The new program recruits volunteer “ambassadors” working in STEM professions from the six industry associations, and brings them into sixth-grade classrooms to speak about their careers. The innovative program features award-winning, eye-catching, and child-friendly graphics developed on a pro bono basis by Arnold Advertising; materials to enhance math and science teachers’ knowledge of STEM careers; and interactive exercises that help sixth-graders understand the benefits of studying math and science and the wide range of job opportunities available to them if they do. The program is targeted to the sixth-grade level based on research conducted by the STEMTech Alliance showing that children at that age are open to exploring STEM careers.

The DIGITS pilot was conducted this past June in 19 classrooms in ten Massachusetts schools, reaching 400 students. According to the independent, third-party evaluator’s report, teachers in the pilot program gave the DIGITS messages, materials, and volunteers a high rating, and students showed an increased interest in math and science subjects, after-school activities, and STEM careers due to the volunteers’ visits.

A compelling music video was created as one of the core elements of the program to grab the attention of the targeted student audience. The STEMTech Alliance is planning to make the music video available for viewing late in the afternoon on October 20, on both the DIGITS website, www.digits.us.com, and YouTube. This musical component of the program also will be performed live at the launch.

For more information on the program or to volunteer, visit www.digits.us.com.

About the STEMTech Alliance

The STEMTech Alliance is a unique coalition of Massachusetts science and technology industry associations working collaboratively to ensure the Commonwealth’s continued role as an innovation leader through the ongoing development of a skilled STEM workforce. The initiative, whose mission is to increase interest of middle school students in STEM subjects and careers, is the first-ever collaboration of six leading Massachusetts industry associations. The associations represent more than 1,500 companies and 300,000 people who work in science and technology industries: the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (lead organization); the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation affiliated with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council; the Massachusetts Network Communications Council; The Engineering Center; the Massachusetts Medical Device Council; and the New England Clean Energy Council. The program brings science and technology professionals into sixth-grade classrooms to encourage students to study math and science as a pathway to a wide variety of career options. The STEMTech Alliance is partnering with government, educators, and corporations to implement the DIGITS program. The STEMTech Alliance received funding from the Department of Higher Education’s STEM Pipeline Fund, and is in partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. More information can be found at www.digits.us.com.

Note: Graphics are available upon request.

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