September 01, 2015
MACHIAS, ME – Flanked by education and telecommunication industry leaders on the campus of the University of Maine at Machias, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today helped officially launch STEM Guides Downeast, a new and innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education hub that will connect students throughout Washington County to STEM learning opportunities within their communities. Senator King delivered remarks at the event, applauding the new program and emphasizing the importance of STEM education in closing the digital divide for rural students who have an interest in pursuing opportunities in science, engineering, or math, but who may not have access to the proper learning resources.
“Science, technology, engineering, and math are all driving our future. But far too often, students, especially those in rural areas, have limited opportunities to build on their interest in those fields and develop the knowledge they want and need to get ahead,” said Senator King. “That’s why it is so critical for us to close the digital learning gap for our rural students by connecting them to the information and resources they need, and why programs like STEM Guides Downeast can change lives and strengthen rural communities in the process. This program will open new doors of opportunity for students in Washington County, and I commend all of the participating organizations for seizing this chance to come together and share their collective STEM expertise for the benefit of the next generation. Washington County is once again taking the lead and showing rural America how it can unlock endless possibilities for its students when they have the necessary resources and guidance.”
The STEM Guides Downeast program will allow students to pursue their interest in STEM subjects at local institutions like UMaine-Machias, the Axiom Education & Training Center, the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education, 4-H Cooperative Extension, and EdGE. It will also connect students with local experts – referred to as “STEM Guides” – to help inform and motivate them to expand their STEM knowledge.
As a longtime proponent of STEM education, Senator King has also drawn inspiration from an ongoing digital learning project in Washington County that provides mobile hotspots to students so that they can access the internet at home and be able to complete school work outside the classroom. This initiative – a collaboration between the New York Public Library, the Maine State Library, U.S. Cellular, and Axiom Technologies called “Check Out the Internet” – inspired Senator King’s Digital Learning Equity Act, legislation he introduced in June with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.). Senator King successfully secured an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), a major education reform bill that has passed Senate in July, which is based in part on his bill with Senator Capito. The amendment would ensure that digital services or devices that help students access the Internet outside of the school day, like mobile hotspots, are eligible for technology funding under the ECAA’s I-TECH program.
The Senate also unanimously passed a separate King amendment to the ECAA in July that would commission a study on the state of student access to the Internet and digital learning resources at home. This study, to be conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences at the Department of Education, would provide policy makers and education professionals with a clearer picture of the digital learning landscape and the ways that home access to digital learning resources – or lack thereof – can affect student performance and participation. The study would also report on promising efforts, like those in Washington County, to close the digital divide known as the homework gap and provide students with access to digital learning resources outside of the classroom.
Today’s event was sponsored by the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, the Axiom Education and Training Center, and the University of Maine 4-H Cooperative Extension. Other speakers at the event included UMaine-Machias President Dr. Joyce Hedlund, Axiom Technologies CEO Susan Corbett, Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) Executive Director Ruth Kermish-Allen and Project Director Jan Mokros, and University of Maine Cooperative Extension Program Administrator Lisa Phelps.
STEM Guides Downeast is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Senator King has supported STEM funding through the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Completive Research (EPSCoR). The project is one of four NSF-funded hubs in Maine. The other hubs are located in Dexter-Dover, Blue Hill, and central Lincoln County.