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Montgomery County Schools and Businesses Keep Talent Flowing to STEM-Related Industries

Montgomery County preps students for tech-oriented careers

By Teree Caruthers on August 3, 2018

Rockville, MD
Rockville / Courtesy of Neil Rubino

With Montgomery County’s ever-growing tech economy, STEM education plays a vital role in ensuring talent flows to its growing tech-related industries.

A 2018 Livability.com study found one in every five workers in Gaithersburg worked in a STEM-related profession, the sixth-highest concentration of any city in the country.

Problem Solvers

“Everyone knows that STEM education is vital for the economic growth of our country,†says Mark Smith, campus director, Art of Problem Solving Academy (AoPS) in Gaithersburg. “Our founder says that if something can be successfully executed repeatedly, then a computer either already is doing that task or will be doing it soon. We need minds that can think through those processes and take the place of those computers.â€

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AoPS offers students from grades 2 to 11 after school, weekend and summer programs to learn how to use math to solve real-world problems through collaborative projects. Smith says problem-solving is a skill employers consistently seek out in applicants, and AoPS helps students hone that skill.

“We lay a nice foundation to help make the workforce flexible and collaborative, and to help them solve problems they might not see coming,†Smith says.

Problem-solving and teamwork are also key tenants of the Drobots Co., a Montgomery County based organization that hosts summer camps for youth ages 6 to 18 that teaches how to design, build and fly drones.

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“Drobots was created to disrupt a little bit of what I would call the traditional STEM learning with the development of safe drones that we could be using in the classroom and outdoors,†says Rob Elwood, founder and CEO of Drobots. “We allow participants to truly feel the success and failures, the challenges, the trials and errors of what I believe a STEM education is. Drobots creates an atmosphere where you’re constantly working with people to solve challenges.â€

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Elwood says the Drobots program also builds confidence among the participants.

“You’re problem solving constantly throughout the day in our programs – not only as an individual but as a team – and when the team is able to resolve those problems, everyone feels really good about it,†he says.

Smart Starts in STEM

The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) system has also invested heavily in STEM education, beginning in the elementary schools with coding and robotics programs.

“For middle schoolers, we’re building upon that early knowledge by giving them coursework that focuses primarily on STEM subjects and working with them to build up their digital literacy,†says Derek Turner, director of the Department of Communications for Montgomery County Public Schools. “This helps them to understand not only the technology itself, but also the impact it has on the real world.â€

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A new location of Junior Achievement’s JA Finance Park debuts in fall 2018. More than 90,000 MCPS middle schoolers have learned personal finance skills in the classroom through Junior Achievement since 2011. In fall 2018, the program will transition to a seventh grade lesson sequence and field trip to the state-of-the-art JA Finance Park learning facility at the new Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Silver Spring.

“That allows seventh grades students to experience the world of work, and a lot of that work is STEM-related,†says Turner.

High schools have developed career pathways focused on career and college readiness, Turner says. A new aviation and aerospace program as well as an IP cybersecurity program and an advanced automotive construction program prepare students for jobs in industries that are increasingly high tech and in demand in the region.

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At the end of the aviation and aerospace program, students are awarded a drone license, which Turner says is a step away from a pilot’s license.

“We want our students to leave our schools ready for college and a career so they can further the economy,†Turners says. “We believe that if we’re not laying a strong foundation for STEM subjects, we aren’t preparing our students for the real workforce and therefore doing them a disservice.â€

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