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Future STEM innovators

3M and the U have joined together to meet the nation’s need for skilled scientists and engineers through quality STEM education outreach.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Any company with a history reaching back more than a century keeps a keen eye on where it’s heading.

That’s why Fortune 500 company 3M, headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, partners with the University of Minnesota to prepare future leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math—commonly known as the STEM disciplines.

Since its founding in 1902, 3M has become one of the most recognizable brands in the world, with more than 55,000 products, 85,000 employees, and operations in some 60 countries.

You don’t get there without people lighting the way.

A nationwide need

With the importance of quality STEM education gaining national attention (U.S. students lag behind students in other industrialized nations in STEM critical thinking skills, and nearly 30 percent of first-year college students are forced to take remedial science and math), 3M and the University of Minnesota have become partners in meeting the nation’s need for skilled scientists and engineers.

The U of M established the STEM Education Center in 2010 to train elementary and secondary school educators to effectively incorporate STEM disciplines into their teaching, and to grow students’ interest and competencies in science, technology, engineering, and math.

3M supports the center through the 3M STEM Education Fellows Program, which funds graduate students (currently six) to work with targeted schools that have been funded by the 3M Foundation to integrate STEM into their school curricula. The company recognizes that the success of its business rides on educating future employees with strong STEM backgrounds and that strong schools like the U of M attract many of its top employees.

Educating tomorrow’s leaders

In fact, the U of M has sent thousands of graduates to work at 3M—including many who dreamed up innovations ranging from products in dental and medical fields, to signature 3M products like sandpaper, tape, and Post-it® notes. The company is also a major financial benefactor to the U, having donated more than $40 million to fund scholarships, fellowships, programs to encourage diversity in the sciences, and more.

Now, the U of M embarks on the second, grander chapter of that experiment, having recently been awarded an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue and expand work integrating STEM education into the K-12 curriculum.

“That grant would not exist were it not for the partnership we have established with 3M and those school districts,” says Gillian Roehrig, associate professor of science education and associate director of the STEM Education Center.

The grant will enable the U to partner with 200 Twin Cities metro area teachers to increase science and math learning through engineering for 15,000 students in the fourth through eighth grades.

The project has the potential to not only change the way partner schools implement STEM education, but to serve as a model for STEM education in schools around the world, says Roehrig.

No doubt many of those students will someday envision a better future for us all.

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