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A Focus on Science Education Fosters Tomorrow’s Innovation

July 2011
“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”
             -Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 26, 2011

Innovation has been the key to Corning’s first 160 years of success, and will be for its next 160 years. That’s why Corning is as dedicated to fostering the innovative spirit in students as it is to inventing new solutions for the world’s challenges.

Corning’s ideas for building creative scientific curiosity in schoolchildren may help influence the Obama administration’s policies on creating a more highly skilled American workforce.

Don McCabe, senior vice president of Manufacturing and Performance Excellence at Corning, heard some of President Obama’s plans and described to administration leaders Corning’s partnership with local schools on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.

The president invited McCabe and 100 other manufacturing executives to Northern Virginia Community College to learn about the administration’s plans to expand Skills for America’s Future – a broad program seeking to equip Americans with competitive skills in a high-tech economy by linking the interests of industry, schools, and labor.

At the meeting, the president announced new partnerships with industry and multimedia groups that will raise awareness of ways unemployed or underemployed Americans can access new training and job opportunities. The efforts will underscore the overall dual objective: reducing unemployment and helping employers find the highly skilled workers they need to stay competitive in the global economy.

Skills for America’s Future uses community colleges as the conduit between future workers and the high-tech, industry-accepted science and math skills American manufacturers need.

Corning’s ongoing struggle to fill jobs for machinists, technicians, and other skilled manufacturing roles sparked the STEM initiative. Community leaders saw the need to reach students well before they go to college or enter the work force.
Efforts, led by Corning Enterprises, began in the Corning-Painted Post (C-PP) School District with the deployment of inquiry-based Full Option Science System (FOSS) for all middle school grades in 2009-2010. The experiential approach to science replaces textbooks with modules which require students to work in teams to understand critical concepts like chemical interactions, measurements, and populations and ecosystems. FOSS promotes advanced thinking and teamwork skills instead of memorization and moves from passive to active engagement among students.

Corning Enterprises funded the initial efforts and C-PP has training and materials in place to expand FOSS to all kindergarten through eighth grade students by 2013.

A year-long Performance Excellence project guided by Corning led to the adoption of FOSS for a broader region. Corning provides funding for teacher training to maintain and expand the STEM program in schools throughout the region.

The Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New York State have joined in the effort as well, developing incremental changes in math and science curriculums, easing the way for gradual program adoption across 21 school districts in northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York. Currently, five New York school districts teach the new STEM-focused curriculum to about 4,000 students.

In addition to classroom education, Corning’s STEM initiative extends into real-world environments as well. For example, Corning recently hosted a five-day summer science program for 27 high school students in the Corning, N.Y. area. Students worked alongside Corning scientists and engineers in their research and development labs to conduct experiments, learn to use state-of-the-art equipment, and become familiar with technology used in key Corning businesses such as Display Technologies and Optical Fiber.

As Corning and other American manufacturers watch to see if a more-intensive focus on STEM education yields the high-skilled workers they need, the Obama administration will also watch for ways to incorporate lessons from STEM into programs like Skills For America’s Future.