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STEM panel at Ashby Ponds promotes education, careers in Virginia

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July 19th, 2016
Members of the most recent Ashby Ponds STEM panel, (from left) Kira Emmons, Emily Crisp, Sarah Ritter, and Jarreau Williams, shared with audience members the impact of STEM education on their career choices.

Members of the most recent Ashby Ponds STEM panel, (from left) Kira Emmons, Emily Crisp, Sarah Ritter, and Jarreau Williams, shared with audience members the impact of STEM education on their career choices.

According to the National Math and Science Initiative, the United States is expected to have more than 8.6 million jobs available within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by 2018, but as many as 3 million of those jobs may be unfilled.

Since 2013, Virginia boasts the highest concentration of these jobs, per capita, in the nation.

“Reaching out to students interested in STEM careers is so important,” says Polly Liss, a community member at Ashby Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va. “We need to make sure that the students have the education and resources they need to find rewarding work while at the same time helping our nation address its need for STEM-educated workers.”

To help achieve these goals, Polly, a member of Ashby Ponds’ STEM group, organizes an annual STEM panel focusing on the advancement of STEM education in an effort to meet the new demands of the marketplace. Since 2013, these discussions have included school administrators from northern Virginia jurisdictions, professionals in higher education, and students and graduates working in STEM fields. 

Planting the seeds for change

Shortly after the creation of the STEM group at Ashby Ponds in 2013, Polly invited a panel of school administrators from four Northern Virginia school divisions (Arlington County, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, and Loudoun County) to discuss their STEM education programs. 

“Education has changed so much,” says Polly, who served (and still serves as an ex officio member) on the Arlington County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee on Career, Technology, and Adult Education. “There are so many ways to collaborate and make the best out of the funds available to serve as many students as possible.”

The following year, representatives from George Mason University, George Washington’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus, Northern Virginia Community College, and Virginia Tech’s Research Center took part in the panel discussion.

“It was a natural progression to move from our first discussions with county school administrators to those at the college and university level,” says Polly. “Our purpose was to address the articulation of STEM emphasis from high school to postsecondary education and newly incorporated or considered curriculum changes recognizing new needs in the workforce.”

Direct from the source

Ashby Ponds’ most recent STEM panel focused on the students and the impact of STEM education on their lives. 

Kira Emmons, a senior at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County, shared her experiences while attending the Virginia Governor’s Residential Summer Academy in Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Lynchburg College.  For one month, she studied computer engineering and built an arithmetic logic unit.  

Emily Crisp, a graduate from the Loudoun County Academy of Science in Sterling, Va., and a 2015 graduate of Auburn University, discussed her marine biology thesis on investigating the communication of clownfish. She studied extensively at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama and James Cook University in Australia. 

She now works in the Washington, D.C., area as an educator and as a contractor for the Smithsonian Institute working on the preservation of the Division of Fishes radiograph collection project.

Jarreau Williams, a program services specialist with continuing and professional education at the Virginia Tech Research Center also participated in the panel discussions. Working both as an actor as well as with various programs across Virginia, including the Department of Education and the VT CLASS (Creative Learning Academy for Senior Scholars), he is a tremendous advocate of maintaining the arts in education as well as incorporating them into the STEM curriculum. 

Even Polly’s own granddaughter, Sarah Ritter, a 2015 graduate of Christopher Newport University, participated in the discussions. With a degree in organismal biology, Ritter is now an education specialist for Under the Sea, whose mission is to promote awareness of the aquatic environment through education and to encourage stewardship and conservation. She is also an aquarium manager for the Glen Echo Park Aquarium, a Chesapeake Bay discovery center, which she helped create. 

Lasting impact

Polly and members of the Ashby Ponds STEM group hope that the results of these panel discussions are far reaching. To aid in these efforts, Polly continues to look for opportunities to distribute DVD copies of each of the panel discussions to educators, students, and employers. 

“It is my hope that our panel discussions will increase knowledge about what STEM is and how it is being addressed in K–12 and at the higher education level, as well as how it is being used by students in school and after graduation,” says Polly. 

She also believes that the STEM panels provide Ashby Ponds community members with important information, particularly in the areas of technology. 

“Being informed about today’s and tomorrow’s opportunities are rich topics for discussion with our succeeding generations as well as among ourselves,” she says. 

Plans are currently under way for the 2016 panel discussion. Polly hopes to focus this year’s discussions on the importance of interdisciplinary teaching and the structure of the school day.

“I believe this will be a very interesting and current topic that could be useful to school administrations seeking better ways of attracting and sustaining student involvement in their education,” she says.