Best Practices
February 24, 2012

Knoxville Chamber of Commerce and Vols4STEM

Great Minds, Great Ideas, Great Partnerships

As reported in the 2011 ICW publication The Case for Being Bold: A New Agenda for Business in Improving STEM Education, the latest Programme for International Student Assessment shows that of 34 countries, American students ranked 17 in science and 25 in math. To advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, the United States must capitalize on its network of scholars and educators, an objective that closely aligns with the work of Vols4STEM.

Vols4STEM is an innovative resource connecting STEM professionals who want to donate their time and expertise with educators and students in Tennessee. While its backers are local or regional organizations, the scope and significance of Vols4STEM speaks to a national issue.

Vols4STEM enables teachers to submit requests for volunteers to help in classrooms or with extracurricular activities, such as robotics teams and LEGO League, to illustrate and apply STEM principles that are used every day. In some cases, organizations or corporations have adopted schools or assisted students on energy efficiency projects. In addition, Vols4STEM has connected more than 500 science and math teachers in area “STEM” companies for an in-service day, providing teachers with opportunities to network and create partnerships with potential volunteers in STEM.

One exciting and upcoming volunteer opportunity is the annual Smoky Mountains Regional FIRST Robotics Competition where mentors are needed to guide students in building and programming robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.

Owing partially to Race to the Top funding that Tennessee received last year, the state established two STEM academies and two STEM hubs. In addition to supporting local schools, STEM hubs share innovative practices with teachers across the state, adding to the fundamental virtual network. Recently, Vols4STEM helped Knox County Schools launch a unique Volunteer Management System that allows for a fluid matching process of volunteers to classrooms.

Jennifer Evans, vice president of Workforce Development & Education at the Knoxville Chamber as well as chair of the Vols4STEM Steering Committee, is excited to see how the online Volunteer Management System creates more connections and partnerships among teachers, schools, and STEM experts. Evans is confident that once teachers get accustomed to posting their needs online, they will find the venture worthwhile and bring even more STEM knowledge and innovation to the classroom.

Partners for Vols4STEM are the Knoxville Chamber, the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, Knox County Schools, the OakRidge Economic Partnership, and Innovation Valley Inc. For more information on the resources Vols4STEM provides, visit their website.