The Marshall University Foundation Inc. has been awarded a $50,000 Phase One planning grant to expand Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) educational opportunities in Huntington, West Virginia, and to update a statewide high school STEM program by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

The Benedum grant application was developed by faculty and staff in the Marshall engineering and art programs, in consultation with the Advanced Career program of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and the Office of Career and Technical Education at the West Virginia Department of Education.

Dr. Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, is supportive of the work.

“Our goal is to assist states in promoting workforce equity for each and every student,” Pruitt said. “High schools and technology centers are being challenged like never before to prepare youth for their next steps after graduation, whether those steps include earning a credential or degree or securing a good job right away. The SREB Advanced Career (AC) courses are helping schools in West Virginia meet the challenge by introducing students to exciting careers in varied STEM fields. SREB is pleased to collaborate with Marshall University in creating learning experiences that will expand postsecondary and workforce opportunities for West Virginia’s students.”

West Virginia Department of Education President David Perry said, “The Benedum Foundation has been a long-term contributor to education in the state of West Virginia. We are appreciative of the financial support they have provided and continue to provide at all levels of our public education system. The grant they approved for the partnership between Marshall University and the Southern Regional Education Board will help support our College and Career Readiness and Simulated Workplace programs.”

The Benedum grant will support the piloting of new, integrated, hands-on art and engineering courses at Marshall University and update a sequence of four high school STEM courses originally designed to support the energy and power industry in West Virginia. These courses were developed for West Virginia by the SREB nearly 10 years ago, in cooperation with local industry and education personnel. The SREB has also developed several different high school STEM programs in most of the 16 states that they support, all of which are developed in cooperation with the emerging industries in each state. Programs are then marketed to high schools in each state and each school selects the STEM topic to teach and the educators to oversee the courses. Once these selections are made, the educators participate in intensive two week workshops in the summer to prepare for the next academic year.

“We at the Benedum Foundation are very excited about this hybrid program, one that integrates the arts and engineering, and which also creates a seamless secondary/postsecondary system of career preparation,” said Dr. Jim Denova, vice president of the foundation. “In the past, we have supported the SREB Advanced Career program because it is a model of college-preparatory rigor in high school career and technical education.  In an era in which most jobs will require some postsecondary training, the associate degree has become the new credential for entry into the workforce; especially for entry into a career.  To not prepare all students for college is to do them a serious disservice.

“In addition to the vertical secondary/postsecondary integration of this project, Marshall University’s horizontal integration of art and engineering reflects the cross-disciplinary collaboration that is in such demand by industry.  This collaboration recognizes that innovation and creativity come from the cross-pollination of different sectors.  With this in mind, the Benedum Foundation launched a Creative Industries Initiative that centers on artists and designers as the catalysts of invention and economic growth.” 

Marshall University engineering professor Dr. Richard Begley assisted with the grant application and said he believes its impact will be felt at Marshall University.

“The Benedum grant will be a very significant and timely contribution to the investments made in both the engineering and art programs by Marshall University over the last few years,” Begley said. “The state-of-the-art facilities at the Weisberg Applied Engineering Complex have already been used to deliver the energy and power workshops, as well as workshops in advanced manufacturing and innovations in science and technology, to high school teachers from 12 different counties in West Virginia and almost all of the 16 states that SREB supports. These workshops facilitate unique university-high school faculty interactions and will contribute to new dual high school and college credit engineering courses for high school students in West Virginia. We are also offering options for the high school teachers that participate in the summer workshops to earn graduate college credit from Marshall. This is an exciting opportunity, as Marshall is enjoying unprecedented growth in the number of engineering faculty and engineering degrees that we are now offering.  I am especially excited that several of our engineering faculty are embracing our plan to develop options for integrating hands on art courses into our engineering degrees. I am confident these new courses will help us better prepare our graduates for the 4th industrial revolution.”

Melissa McCloud manages one of Marshall University’s art facilities and provided valuable insight to the grant proposal. She said she believes this grant is of great importance to educators and students.

“Adding art as a catalyst to STEM has the power to not only fortify our students but also instill a sense of self agency that will serve them well throughout their lives,” McCloud said. “We have some of the most unique facilities for teaching art in the region.  A more formal partnership with the engineering program here at Marshall, complements the other STEAM activities that our faculty and students have underway on campus and in our community. In future phases of this grant, we are planning to develop new STEAM college-credit courses and minors for other programs on campus. We believe this grant will result in Marshall University offering the first STEAM college-credit-awarding courses in West Virginia. There are numerous K-12 STEAM activities in West Virginia and several have been supported by the Benedum Foundation. We hope to build upon these previous investments made throughout the state of West Virginia in the years ahead.”

Originally from Megan Archer for Marshall University Communications