Norwin School District superintendent William Kerr wants students to have an opportunity to learn the high-tech skills needed by area industries right on the high school campus.
Last week, the school board approved a feasibility study to see whether the district should build a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, center on campus.
Mr. Kerr said one purpose of the feasibility study will be to identify high-demand occupations. Another will be to identify business and industry managers who might want to provide training to students in skills needed by their industries at the new Norwin STEM Innovation Center.
The proposed 22,000-plus square-foot building equipped with state-of-the-art technology, math instruments and science laboratories could be built as part of an industry-school collaboration.
During a presentation to the school board earlier this month, Mr. Kerr said an estimated 75,000 STEM-related jobs are going unfilled in Pennsylvania because the workforce lacks the needed skills.
He said 60 percent of new jobs that will open this century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of workers.
Mr. Kerr said one example is biomedical engineering, which he said is expected to have a 62 percent increase in employment by 2020.
According to Mr. Kerr's proposal, careers to be taught at the STEM center include manufacturing technology, health care, education, biomedical, bioscience and medical technology, pharmacy, dentistry, renewable and clean energy, environmental sciences, aviation, aerospace and information technology.
He said the purpose of the center would not be to compete with Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center or Westmoreland County Community College, but to work with them.
According to Mr. Kerr, one opportunity for collaboration with the community college could be its workforce development initiative related to the Marcellus Shale industry.
Norwin administrators and some teachers will also tour the Electro-Optics Center at Northpointe Industrial Park tomorrow. According to a press release, electro-optics center staffers are working with Norwin administrators to identify businesses and industries interested in providing training at the Norwin campus.
In his written proposal, Mr. Kerr said administrators also are researching the Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences Program, a sequence of courses that follows a hands-on, real-world, problem-solving approach to learning. In it, students explore the concepts of human medicine and are introduced to physiology, genetics, microbiology and public health.
He said this week that if plans for the center come to fruition, Norwin freshmen and sophomores could have mentorships, and juniors and seniors could have internships in high-technology fields at the center.
The STEM center also would serve as a professional development center for K-12 educators at Norwin and nearby schools.
It could also be the site for a Junior ROTC program the district is considering, and the possible site of a satellite location for an Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching Foundation, a national pre-K through grade 12 STEM-related education improvement foundation.
District administrators will seek funds to build the center from the Pennsylvania capital improvement program, grants, foundations and Norwin Knight Alumni contributions.
The district will not make a commitment to creating the STEM Center until enough funding has been secured to make sure the cost does not fall on taxpayers.
According to the proposal Mr. Kerr presented earlier this month, the district already has sponsored winter and summer STEM innovation camps such as Camp Invention and Engineering Ideas for Young Knights for elementary students, and middle school robotic competitions and camps including Data Loggers and AquaBots using Lego MindStorm robots.
He wrote that third-grade students have been introduced to LEGO WeDo robotics construction sets during the 2012-13 school year, with expansion to other elementary grades planned for next year, and that the high school participates in the Battle Bots competition and has a curricular focus on robotics and engineering.
According to Mr. Kerr, the popular Norwin School District K-12 Alumni Science Days and K-8 Science Fairs, as well as Partners in Progress career awareness sessions sponsored by the Norwin Chamber of Commerce, also have been highly successful.
Chartiers Valley High School already offers classes in its own engineering academy. Kiski Area School District administrators are considering making North Washington Elementary School into a grade five and six school with an emphasis on STEM curriculum, and Burrell School District turned Stewart Elementary School into a STEM-focused school last year.
Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.