STEM school impacting hundreds of kids
COLUMBIA - Benton STEM Elementary is making strides in the local community by educating over 300 students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM.
"We really want to emphasize for kids they can do those things," Heather McCullar said, STEM Specialist at Benton Elementary.
The STEM program at Benton focuses their curriculum on two things: 1) the practical application of what the kids are learning, its connections to careers and how what they're doing in the classroom applies out in the real world and 2) the natural integration of content areas and how reading, writing, science and math are all connected.
McCullar said the exposure aspect to STEM topics are what's the most important to the children at her school.
"There's a lot of research out there that says, those are the jobs that are going to be available for these kids in the future," McCullar said.
Expert Dr. Tojan Rahhal, director of Diversity and Outreach at MU's College of Engineering, agreed with McCullar by saying studies show that many jobs in the American work force will have a STEM component to them in the future, but says getting children started early is important.
"It's about the confidence you instill in the children early on," Rahhal said.
Rahhal said by age six, girls begin to deem themselves as less smart than their male counterparts. By third grade, Rahhal said they lbegin to disengage in certain school subjects due to a lack of confidence.
"The confidence children learn from early on, is what allows them to be successful in the STEM field," Rahhal said.
Rahhal works directly with faculty, staff and students to develop outreach initiatives with a STEM focus to encourage exposure to STEM principles at an early age.
Rahhal even spoke about the lack of diversity in the STEM field for minorities and diversities. As an engineer and scientist by trade, she says when she asks a child, who's a scientist and who's an engineer, it's typically for the go-to answer to be Albert Einstein.
Yet Rahhal questions the amount of students who can name off a famous minority scientists.
Not only does Rahhal believe children should be exposed to STEM at such an early age, but she says the minority perspective is also important.
"How can you be innovative when there's only one perspective at the table?" Rahhal questioned.
In a 2017 article by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Office of the Chief Economist explicitly states that not only are women in the STEM field are underrepresented in the work force, but supplies several pages of data which says these numbers have not increased since 2009.
McCullar said her favorite part about her job is exposing children to the different components of the STEM field.
For those ineligible to attend Benton STEM Elementary, Columbia has several opportunities throughout the community for parents and guardians alike to expose children, K-12 to STEM concepts.
If interested in certain clubs, groups or activities for STEM in the local community, check out the graphic below.