By Llyod Jackson | June 15,2015 | The Charleston Gazette
As Chair of the Board of Directors at the Clay Center, I was excited to learn last year that local natural gas companies would donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote STEM education in West Virginia.
If you missed the recent story, the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences unveiled a mobile classroom with the goal of interesting middle school students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. The students are exposed to these concepts through a variety of games and exercises using natural gas industry themes as the backdrop. They are served up in a high-tech, engaging format, all of which is housed in a specially designed truck-mounted mobile exhibit.
In a June 3 commentary in the Gazette (“What’s the lesson in the Clay Center’s power exhibit?”), an individual questions the motivation and necessity of this exhibit, as it was largely funded by companies engaged in the natural gas industry.
While the exhibit was made possible by generous contributions from natural gas corporations, the Clay Center educational staff developed the curriculum and the exhibit. The Clay Center’s mission is to educate the public on topics of science and technology as they relate to their everyday life. Natural gas is and will be a central issue for our State and our counties for decades to come and the Center will continue to bring balanced and fact-based educational programming to inform our citizens and to educate our children.
For companies like Energy Corporation of America and EQT to underwrite the cost of the Power Your Future exhibit speaks volumes about the level of commitment these two corporations have for our communities, our state and the betterment of our children. I applaud their contributions and involvement. From many years raising money for the Clay Center and other nonprofit organizations, I know how important corporate contributions are to providing quality and entertaining programming.
As a member of the West Virginia Board of Education and also as a former state senator who served 12 years in the Legislature — a portion of which I served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee — I am well aware of the educational challenges facing our state. For West Virginia to prosper, we must have an educated workforce. To prepare our students for the jobs of the future, they must have some level of proficiency in the STEM fields.
According to findings from the Governor’s STEM Council Report (November 2014), several factors will determine whether West Virginia can meet the growing need for STEM skills. They include:
n Increased early exposure to a solid foundation in math and science at the elementary grade levels.
• Continued hands-on engagement in the science and engineering activities during the middle grades.
n Increased numbers of students taking and passing rigorous STEM courses at the high school level that include both Career Technical Certifications and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.
• Early and intense career counseling regarding community-technical college program opportunities.
n Increased number of non-traditional students completing STEM-related 4-year degree programs.
• Items one and two directly relate to the need for tools like the Power Your Future exhibit, and the other items will be promoted by the success of the first two. Increased exposure to and engagement in STEM concepts will only increase the interest and skill of our children. The fact that natural gas-related processes are incorporated into this learning tool demonstrates the real world application of the STEM concepts.
The Council on STEM Report also states:
“Marcellus activity in West Virginia is anticipated to last for decades. This increase in natural gas production requires a steady flow of workers who are skilled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the Mountain State. The West Virginia education system has the challenge of preparing the needed STEM-skilled workers to fill these positions.
Beyond the energy sector, STEM-skilled workers are critical to building a strong economic foundation in a wide range of West Virginia industries. The Governor’s Executive Order emphasizes it is vital for robust manufacturing, enhanced productivity and ingenuity, quality healthcare services, expanded technology and a healthy environment.
For the last several years, state leaders have been working to improve and diversify West Virginia’s economy — preparing students for careers in STEM is the key to achieving that goal.”
Given recent discoveries and advancements, we can expect the gas industry to be around for a long time — offering career opportunities for West Virginians across this state well into the future.
I’m proud to be a part of this profession and want to see our state move forward. I encourage educators and parents from across the state to learn more about this unique program and to consider requesting it be brought to their schools.
Lloyd Jackson, a lawyer in Hamlin, is a former Senate Education chairman, a member of the state Board of Education and chairman of the Clay Center Board of Directors.