AEP Foundation Grant Builds STEM Learning

Going into year two of the Credits Count Grant from the American Electric Power (AEP) Foundation is exciting for Mia Brown, the Credits Count Project Director at Ashland Community and Technical College.

The most rewarding aspect of this position is to see students being empowered to become the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experts, she said. They will be learning the subjects that will enhance their lives, lead to better job opportunities and help our businesses and communities transition into a new era.

The $815,000 multi-year grant is being funding over five years in partnership with ACTC to boost STEM education in the Lawrence County School System. The project will reach students as early as middle school to nurture their interests in STEM careers and to help them earn college credits or career certifications by the time they finish high school

Browns job as Project Director is to organize, implement, and manage the project. The project is focused on increasing STEM interest and awareness in middle school students, preparing students for college level work and offering dual credit college courses for high school students.

My vision for the project is a process that not only prepares students for excellence but also builds an academic and community environment that helps them maintain excellence, Brown said.

The first year of the grant was devoted to planning by a committee of ACTC and Lawrence County school representatives. Planning included activities that would expose students to STEM subjects and build their expectations that they could go on to succeed in college.

Last year, Brown conducted student assemblies and faculty meetings and attended County Board meetings to explain grant goals and gain input in the resources needed to achieve those goals. We are trying to reach students who would otherwise not have this opportunity. I think the overarching goal of the grant is to bring about changes in student and community expectations that will last longer than the grant.

We want the students to expect that technology will be a part of their lives, to know that they need college or training after high school to prepare for good jobs, and to believe, most of all, that they can do it, she said.

The second installment of the grant, delivered last May, began the process of introducing STEM into the schools. This year middle school students will be exposed to STEM activities and high school students will start preparing for and/or taking dual enrollment college classes.

Middle school students will learn about over 90 different STEM careers and technologies through Learning Blade, an interactive video tool that will be integrated into the common core curriculum of math, reading, science and social science.

Activities throughout the year at each middle school will include STEM Awareness Month and COSI Interactive Video Conferences, plus STEM Family Night, Ambassadors, Character Night and field trips.

Dual enrollment in ACTC classes began this year. The plan calls for 60 students enrolled this second year of the grant, 70 students in Year 3, 80 in Year 4 and 90 in Year 5. This fall, 27 high school seniors and 12 juniors were enrolled, and spring semester enrollment begins in November. The dual credit goal is for students to have 12 college credits when they graduate from high school.

College course readiness assessments are being used to identify gaps in writing, math and reading that may need tutoring support, and ACTC Assistant Math Professor Richard Merritt developed an Algebra II supplement for high school students taking Algebra II.

A high school ALL IN for STEM club will start this year to help students focus on their academic future and possible career choices. Club members will learn about college and career readiness standards and how to prepare for dual enrollment.

To help facilitate these activities, all schools received a projector for web-based video conferencing in middle schools and dual credit instruction at the high schools. The middle schools also received a total 120 Chromebooks to help with Learning Blade delivery.

In addition to the activities, courses and technology access required for STEM excellence, the Credits Count projects offers faculty support. Professional development activities are being planned to help the high school faculty become proficient in STEM technologies and course preparation, and ACTC faculty are sharing their expertise with their high school counterparts as faculty mentors.

Brown also provides the students with scholarship information, financial aid assistance, advising and counseling, promotion of college access and success, and linkage and referral to community-based services.

It is my commitment and promise that the students, faculty and schools will have all available tools and resources that will help them on their journey to success, she said.

Coming to the County Browns Journey to STEM

In the process of planning and organizing for the future of the Credits Count Project, Brown had to learn about Lawrence County its history, resources, economy and people.

Lawrence County is very different from the Eastern West Virginia Panhandle area where Brown grew up. I lived in a busy metro area close to Washington D.C. and New York City, she said. There was a diverse population, with many residents who were late-comers rather than natives to the area. There were many different kinds of businesses and a large variety of white collar and blue collar jobs.

Moving to Huntington to go to Marshall University introduced Brown to the quieter tri-state area and Appalachian culture. The steady paced culture has been very refreshing for me, Brown said. I understand the importance of family, hard work and perseverance.

Because of family circumstances, I was raised by my grandparents. Based on statistics, I was not expected to accomplish very much. But because I had God fearing grandparents and teachers who believed in me, I saw a future and a hope for my life, and I pressed through. I know firsthand the value of education.

Her preparation for the position of Project Director included 13 years of management experience with fashion companies such as Abercrombie amp; Fitch and Deb Shops Inc. Those jobs helped her attend college to pursue her interest in science.

She has a BS in Biotechnology, MS in Biological Sciences, MS in Adult and Technical Education and Business Management Foundations Graduate Certificate, all from Marshall University. Her passion for STEM subjects comes naturally, and she wants to pass that passion along to the students she serves. I am a strong advocate and active participant in STEM education because I know it can improve lives.

Her work in education has included serving as an Adjunct Biology Instructor since 2010 and an Academic Skills Instructor since 2009 at Mountwest Community amp; Technical College. My classroom experience has helped me approach project goals not only as a manager and scientist but as a teacher.

Im fortunate to have found a great support system at the college, she said. Dean Janie Kitchen, Director of Grants and Contracts Sarah Diamond Burroway, Professors Molly Webb and Nicole Griffith-Green, and recruiter Britany Hall, a LCHS graduate, have helped me with many different aspects planning and follow through.

Through Credits Count, we want to reach students who would not otherwise have this opportunity, and we want to build in an expectation of success. This expectation by the students, their teachers, parents and community will build a foundation to help them attain the skills for 21st Century careers.

We are working to have a sustainable STEM program and vision that will continue on after the grant is finished, Brown concluded.