By Linda F. Jarrett
With dire statistics of U.S. students falling behind
in the field of mathematics, science, and computer science,
educators are agreeing that the time to plant the seeds of technology
is in the seventh and eighth grades.
Information Technology courses and seminars have been available
to college and continuing education students for several years.
Now, elementary and high schools are beginning to implement
programs to foster this interest. The following is a sampling
of several local initiatives to address this need:
SHOW ME SCHOLARS
The Show Me Scholars Initiative, a new education program from
the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, brings local
community leaders into eighth grade classrooms to motivate students
into choosing challenging high school classes.
The program takes place at four school districts—Jennings, Mexico,
Rockwood and Houston—and is funded by a $300,000 U.S. Department
of Education grant.
Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce
and Industry, says the Scholars program seeks to encourage a
more rigorous curriculum in high school. “It features a mentoring
program from employers in the community to give testimonials
as to why it’s important to excel and take these challenging
courses, and how you will be better off whether you’re going
to college, junior college or into the work force.”
In April, Gov. Matt Blunt, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer,
Dr. Robert Fraley, and education stakeholders from across the
state joined eighth grade students from Rockwood and Jennings
school districts at Monsanto’s St. Louis offices to kick off
the new program.
Fraley says Missouri needs more programs to move students into
math and science classes so the state can fill research and
engineering jobs in coming decades.
The Missouri Chamber Education Foundation’s goal is to extend
the Show-Me Scholars Initiative to at least one-quarter of Missouri’s
524 school districts by 2010.
THE MISSOURI MATH, ENGINEERING, TECHNOLOGY, & SCIENCE
Missouri METS came out of a summit called by Gov. Blunt to improve
the performance of elementary and high school students in math,
engineering, technology and science.
Mehan says that in tracking the rest of the country in these
subjects, “we found that while students did well in the fourth
grade, something happens between the fourth and twelfth grade,
and we drop below other industrialized countries. Jobs are more
and more technology-driven and with the population having difficulty
in mastering some of the subjects and not achieving proficiency,
employers are finding it harder and harder to make connections
with the right employees.
“Our concern,” he says, “is that we’re producing waves of students
that aren’t ready to be part of this economy and workforce.”
To achieve this end, the METS Coalition and Gov. Blunt asked
the Missouri Chamber to manage the Coalition which is developing
a plan on the following five initiatives identified during the
1 Improve the performance of Pre-school through graduate
2 Expand the pool of students motivated to pursue METS
3 Expand the quality of METS teachers.
4 Establish a technology plan to support METS curricula.
5 Increase the public awareness and value of METS knowledge
on the lives of all Missourians and highlight the importance
of METS related industries and jobs to enhance Missouri’s global
awareness and competitiveness.
“The Governor has made it a priority to put more technology
resources to work in the classroom,” Mehan says. “We’re working
on the curriculum now and we have a good group of concerned
people from both the public and private sector that meet regularly.”
Lift for Life Academy (LFLA), 1731 S. Broadway, was the first
independent charter school to open in St. Louis. When it opened
in August 2000, LFLA was sometimes the school of last resort
for students who had “fallen through the cracks” in public schools.
Now, City families are choosing the school with its creative
alternative learning experience for their children.
One of these experiences is YInvent. Formed through a $21,000
AT&T Excelerator Grant, the program started last fall with seven
eighth grade students chosen by teachers to take part in the
initial pilot program.
“Its intent was to develop some curriculum technology and expose
that in terms of a business project to the Lift for Life students,
which are predominantly minority students from lower economic
income families,” says Francis Chmelier, director of operations
at the Technologi-cal Entrepreneur Center. “The school’s goals
are to try to get students enrolled in various high schools
around the City and place them in the right environment.
The program is taught in conjunction with the Academy of Science-St.
Louis, located in the St. Louis Science Center which is the
partner for the project, although it is being managed by TEC.
Willem Bakker, TEC president and CEO, and executive director
of the Information Technology Coalition of Innovate St. Louis,
says, “We have chosen the workforce to be the focus for the
coalition. It became clear to us that when you want to develop
a workforce, you have to start very very early. This experience
with these students is a clear indication where the coalition
needs to start developing the interest in our young people to
make careers in information technology.
“They’re led to believe that this is something they cannot pursue,”
he says. “But in the greater context of the coalition, this
is a pilot to identify how early we, as a community, need to
start building interest in young people to become knowledge
A program developed by Computer Science Chairman Dr. Jerry Weinberg
at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is drawing nationwide
attention with its use of Robotics.
“What we are trying to do with our outreach programs is a type
of pipelining,” he says. “We go out to the middle schoolers,
and they participate in little robot mini camps where they build
robots, do a bit of programming, and we have a competition at
The program also pairs middle school students with high school
students in science and technology classes, Weinberg says. “Then
they can interact and get a sense of what high school students
are doing and, hopefully, get interested in informational technology,
science, or, possibly, continue on with robotics.
Weinberg also has a program involving a robotics competition
where high school students meet with college freshmen in engineering
“We give the students a one or two day workshop on building
and programming robots,” he says. “They have seven or eight
weeks to work on designing robots for some challenge. The ten
best teams in high school then compete against a freshman engineering
“They get an opportunity to interact with some college students
who have gone through some engineering and design courses,”
he says. “And get a sense of what they may learn when they get
here, and hopefully, they’ll stay interested in technology.”
In another interesting aspect, Weinberg’s department got a National
Science Foundation grant to study girls’ attitudes towards science
and technology as part of being in the competitions.
“We got some interesting results,” he says. “One of which is
that girls in mixed gender teams increased their interest in
science and engineering more than the girls on the single gender
teams. I don’t know why, but I think it has something to do
with some competition with their male counterparts.”
Weinberg believes that students begin plotting their destiny
early in their school career. “Seventh grade is when they begin
to form their thoughts about what they want to do long term,
so you really have to hit them in this grade if you expect them
to go into these areas.”
This summer, academically talented high school seniors and juniors
are getting a chance to research everything from neural circuits
in the brain to human/robot interacting to evolutionary computation
during the Pfizer Inc. and Solutia Inc. 2007 STARS (Students
and Teachers as Research Scientists) program.
The program, held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, pairs
students with mentors from UMSL, Saint Louis University, Washington
University in St. Louis and the Donald Danforth Plant Science
“Through teacher-student and mentor-scientist partnerships,
participants apply various problem-solving strategies to independent
research projects,” says Ken Mares, STARS director. “Students
write technical reports and orally present their results in
a seminar format on the last day of the program.
“These are the kids that will go on to be the scientists of
the future,” he says. “They will be faculty at colleges, research
engineers for the Boeing Company, research scientists for Monsanto.
These are the kids that have the academic talent to go to the
doctorate level, the post doctorate level, and the PhD level,
and be very successful.”
Mares believes more programs like this need to be in play around
the country. “The government has money for kids who fall behind,
but not a lot of money for the kids who will be the next generation
of scientists to do stealth technology. We think we have a niche
and we’re good at it. We have something that could be replicated
throughout the country, but it does take a lot of effort, and
I don’t see a lot of initiative to address this manpower issue
that keeps coming up.”
The program includes 58 students from 21 high schools in the
St. Louis metro area and 15 students from around the U.S. and
COLLEGE AND THE IT EMPHASIS
Webster University’s Information Tech-nology programs focus
on helping students to apply their learning to business situations.
Benjamin Akande, dean of the School of Business and Technology
at Webster University, and Chief Academic Officer of the School
of Business and Technology, says, “Our intent is to marry learning
with doing, so students don’t wait until they graduate before
they get the real experience. So we emphasize the power of application
of knowledge in our IT program, and that might be a departure
from other programs that are theoretically-based.”
Students in the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science program
become bilingual in the computer sense, and the ability to manage
small and large projects, plus multitasking is emphasized.
“We put them in an environment to test their capacity to do
these things, and if they are able to do them, we give them
our stamp of approval,” Akande says.
At the graduate level, Webster University has the masters of
science and computer science with an emphasis in distributed
“The essence of the program is to allow the users to access
information systems from anywhere in the world, and to take
students through a preparation where they can go from a PC to
a web server to a database,” Akande says. “We found that this
particular program usually attracts working adults who may have
some background in computer science and are looking for ways
to validate and go to the next level, to hone their skills and
to pickup methodologies in information systems.”
SIUE’s Dean of Engineering, Hasan Sevim, says most of their
graduates work for companies that need an information technology
person, from engineering and manufacturing companies to banks,
telephone and rental companies. “These people basically are
behind the central brain of these companies in networking and
managing their daily business as well as their accounting and
While SIUE is a mid-size engineering college, the program is
in great demand, especially from international students, particularly
because of the emphasis in robotics due to Weinberg’s work in
CENTER FOR THE APPLICATION OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (CAIT)
The CAIT program, a non-degree program at Washington University,
is a division of the School of Continuing Education, and addresses
the needs of technical professionals, particularly those in
the information technology field.
“We provide training to all the companies in the St. Louis Metropolitan
area,” says Laura Koetting, executive director of the Sever
Institute Program of Continuing Studies. “We don’t want companies
training their people elsewhere, and not only does this program
address topics such as programming and networking, but areas
unique to IT people such as management and soft skills.”
The program is targeted for people who are already working in
informational technology, and most courses assume that the background
is already there.
However, Koetting says, “there are many people such as teachers
who teach various IT courses that will take courses here to
update their skills, then go back and use their knowledge to
As a member-based organization, approximately 3,000 people a
year go through CAIT, and those completing the courses of study
are awarded certificates in that area.
“We started 30 years ago as the Center of Data Processing,”
Koetting says. “The name changed to CAIT in 1990. We also have
a speaker series featuring IT topics so companies can send their
people here without having them jump on a plane. It’s another
years at the Saint Louis Science Center, Cyberville has
been intriguing children and adults alike, and who knows
how many students are aiming for a career in information
technology, thanks to this fascinating computer gallery.
The exhibit, which opened in 2002, encompasses 6,000 square
feet of informational technology attractions.
Dr. Christine Roman, associate director for emerging technologies,
says that Cyberville was designed to introduce informational
technology to a large number of people. “In particular,
people who were uncomfortable with the concept. It’s bright
and colorful, a village with structures and in one area,
which we call the Cyberville Institute of Technology, we
look at the basics of computing, like the binary system
and programming languages.”
Roman says that when the attraction opened, many people
did not know how to use a mouse, and were able to grasp
that skill. “We look at how expansive the use of the computer
is across the world and we have several programs that show
people how to program something.”
Another feature is the interactive Digital River Basin,
funded by $2 million grant from National Science Foundation
done in collaboration with the University of Illinois Urbana
Champaign National Supercomputing Center, the Science Museum
of Minnesota and the Illinois State Museum.
“It’s a large tabletop display based on real data on a 20-mile
stretch of Mississippi River that starts at the foot of
the arch and goes up to Grafton,” Roman says.
“Visitors can use simple tools to interact with it and find
out things like elevation at certain points, flooding at
one or another place in ’93 flood, and the tendency to flood
in some area. With a touch screen computer consoles, you
can fly over the area, investigate the ecosystems, and even
go below the surface of river. This information is based
on the Army Corps of Engineers.”
The exhibit is on display at all three museums, Roman says,
with each display focusing on a different river segment.
Roman says their approach to Cyberville is found in a quote
from Pattern on the Stone written by W. Daniel Hillis,
chairman and chief technology officer of Applied Minds Inc.,
a research and development company creating a range of new
products and services in software, entertainment, electronics,
biotechnology and mechanical design.
“The quote says, ‘The computer is not just an advanced calculator
or camera or paintbrush, rather it is a device that accelerates
and extends our processes of thought. It is an imagination
machine that starts with the ideas we put into it and takes
it farther than we ever could have taken them on our own.’
”So,” Roman says, “with that sentiment underlying everything,
the gallery focuses on all the technologies used for creating,
abstracting and managing the flow of information.”