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Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Report: Oak Mountain Academy, Carrollton, GA

Tuesday, February 5, 2019  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Andrew Carnes, Upper School Math and Science Teacher, Oak Mountain Academy


West Georgia is a region that is one of the fastest growing in the Southeast in terms of industry, much of which is STEM-related. There has been significant growth in food processing, information technology, and health care, and it is anchored by two primary higher education institutions: the University of West Georgia (UWG) and the West Georgia Technical College, both of which contribute to formal STEM education. However, there has been less informal STEM education and outreach with the exception of school-based science fairs and an occasional science demo event at UWG. This leaves many students, not just at Oak Mountain Academy, but at all local schools unaware of the opportunities in their own backyard.


There have been several groups that have tried to solve this problem, including the Carroll County Education Collaborative and industry initiatives through the Chamber of Commerce and the Burson Center, a local mixed-use incubator and resource center. They have been successful at connecting teachers with some of the leaders in local industry and with the local university systems but were not reaching students directly.


A few years ago, Dr. Lok Lew Yan Voon took over as the head of the College of Math and Science at the University of West Georgia. He set a goal of trying to solve this disconnect with students and the greater STEM community in Carrollton and started by touring the local schools. We shared ideas of what could be done for the local schools, including Oak Mountain Academy.


Out of all the ideas we discussed, we decided on an annual STEM festival to bring together all the schools, universities, and industries in Carroll County. Dr. Lok had success with a similar endeavor in Charleston, SC. Oak Mountain had several connections through alumni, faculty, and outreach programs, and Dr. Lok quickly formed a committee from these connections to help develop and coordinate all the organizations that would participate. We both sought funding for the project.


We were fortunate to be awarded the SAIS Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant and it has served us extraordinarily well. It turned out to be the only funding we received and became instrumental in moving the committee forward. Thanks to the generosity of the SAIS and the success of our inaugural STEM festival, we will be able to keep the event going for years to come.


Our committee was made up of a number of experts, with a core group consisting of Dr. Lok, Lauren Holverson, Robert Curry, Lindsey Robinson, Cathy Fontenot, and myself. We modeled our festival after the guidelines provided by the Science Festival Alliance and included hands-on STEM activities for adults and children, tables manned by STEM professionals and educators, and tables hosted by an array of STEM organizations.


We reached out to several businesses, local schools, county services, and the universities to collaborate on our plans. More than 20 participants joined us, including local science departments, nursing programs, the police department, local astronomy groups, four of the local schools, and the library system. One of the major highlights we appreciated was the networking we saw between all the different levels of STEM in our community. Many of the Carroll County schools were able to meet presenters and find new ways to connect them to their curriculum.


More than 750 people, ages 3 through adults, attended the STEM festival, held on Saturday, September 29, 2018. All of the participants did a fantastic job of providing hands-on activities or demonstrations that appealed to the wide range of ages in attendance. For example, the library offered a STEM-based exploration lab of simple machines targeting elementary school children while the police department showed older students and adults how phones can be hacked and how they retrieve data from a criminal’s electronic device. One of the most popular exhibits for all age groups was a virtual reality demonstration. 


Attendees surveyed gave the event an average score of 9.3 out of 10. Of the participants, all want to return and try new events next year. The teachers have also given positive feedback and loved that they had a one-stop shop to connect many of the ideas they were teaching in their class with real world topics.


As an extra boon, many of the participants ended up donating marketing, the venue, and tables, saving costs. Several members of the community want to provide future funding, now that they have seen the benefits of such a program. We look forward to hosting this event for years to come.


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