Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers are among the fastest growing areas in the U.S., and yet Tom Withee, science department chair and STEM Club sponsor at Collinsville High School (an A&E grantee), struggles to recruit enough students for STEM electives each semester. That’s why Withee and music teacher Lisa Cleveland got together and added art to the mix.

Last September, a colleague had shared with them information about a Create Music STEM camp organized by PEERS Foundation. The one-day, in-school program introduces students to the concepts and applications of STEM through music-related activities. Withee and Cleveland saw the program as an opportunity to introduce the sciences and music to freshmen and sophomores who otherwise hadn’t yet shown much interest, or even much inclination for those areas.

Withee says integrating arts when teaching science or technology makes it more accessible for the students - and gets them thinking about new possibilities.

“The kids think, ‘I listen to music. I like music.’ It’s more accessible than just talking about technology,” he explained. “They are learning about both music and technology. Even the kids who are really into music, they get to see there are a lot of careers in technology they can pursue.”

There was just one problem - finding funding midway through the school year to bring this program to their students.

The Arts and Education Council’s Maritz Arts and Education Fund for Teachers was created in 2008 for teachers just like Withee and Cleveland. The grant program puts funding directly in the hands of teachers across the bi-state region to bring meaningful arts experiences to area students. Collinsville HS was among 13 grantees announced in November 2017 to receive funding through the program.

“Truthfully, we could not have done this camp without the grant from A&E,” Cleveland said.

With funding in place, Withee and Cleveland got to work recruiting participants, focusing their efforts on those students who are underrepresented in STEM jobs. Women represent nearly half of the workforce, but hold just 24% of STEM jobs and minorities are even less represented.

“We were looking for girls and minorities and first-generation college-bound students,” he said. “These are students whose teachers thought if they got just a little bit of a nudge, they might pursue a career in a STEM field.”

When they hosted the Create Music STEM Camp on January 30, they had 27 freshmen and sophomores to participate. More than half of the students were female, two-thirds minorities, more than half receiving free or reduced lunch and one-third first-generation college-bound.

The students participated in five activities: a Digital Design lab, where students used drafting software to design an object of their choosing; 3D printing demonstrations; rapid prototyping of music apps designed by the students; building synthesizers from circuit boards; and writing music using Scratch software from MIT.

While it is still early to know the long-term impact of the program, the initial signs look good. After the camp, nearly half of the students indicated they now had more interest in pursuing a STEM or music-related career.

Another byproduct of the program is teachers getting ideas on how to collaborate across subject areas.

“There’s been a lot of talk among the other teachers,” Withee explains. “Questions about what we are doing with this program, how we can collaborate on future projects and how we got the funding.”

“Truthfully, we couldn’t have done this program without the grant from the Arts and Education Council,” said Cleveland.

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