Pinellas County is powered by Duke Energy – and so is an innovative STEM program that prepares students for promising tech-field jobs in a fast-changing world.
The STEM Academy Program for K-12 students, devised and overseen by Pinellas County Schools’ Laura Spence, has been impacting lives and enhancing the community for nine years. Thanks to Duke Energy’s support from the start, the after-school STEM enrichment program has given all PCS students – but particularly those from the county’s challenged Title 1 schools – access to top-tier education in the STEM components of science, technology, engineering and math.
Spence wrote her first grant proposal to Duke Energy in 2013-14 and the funding she was awarded got the program off the ground. The money helps her cover the cost of purchasing STEM Academy materials and technology that integrate with her STEM initiatives such as robotics, app development and computer programming. Portions of the grant also help to cover teacher training and facilitation stipends. “It’s a free program that utilizes an extended school-day in order to expose students to in-demand STEM skills employers are looking for,” she said.
All told, the company’s contributions to the Pinellas Education Foundation have surpassed $3 million and supported programs like Take Stock in Children, Enterprise Village and Finance Park and classroom grants. The STEM Academy Program alone has helped more than 12,300 students at an average of 40-50 Title 1 schools.
This past year, a $200,000 annual grant from Duke Energy has paved the way for a multitude of highlights, such as:
- Participation by 1,617 Pinellas students in grades 2-12 in 47 schools
- Students received 22 hours of in-person STEM Academy instruction
- 97 Title 1 STEM Academy teachers attended at least three professional development sessions – a total of 873 hours
“Technology is changing rapidly in the energy industry,” said Jeff Baker, Duke Energy’s government and community relations manager. “We will probably change from the last five years to the next five years more than we have in the last 100 years. So we need a work force educated on new technologies. All of the investments we are making today are technology-driven. If we don’t have a stream of students from elementary school through high school it will impact our workforce as well.”
Baker underscores that the chief focus of the Duke Energy Foundation is supporting K-12 education, with an emphasis on the three “E’s” – energy, engineering and environment. Those elements mirror what STEM is all about. “If you look at the core fundamentals of our Foundation, everything that this program does aligns all our stated investment priorities.”
Baker credits Spence for not only overseeing the program but for constantly keeping Duke Energy apprised of the impact the company’s support has made, and involving them in events like the STEM Festival. “I have to believe that we have a few graduates of the program working for us today,” he added. “And there’s no question that the training these students receive is helping the community as a whole.”