| Follow Us:


Q&A: Steve Krak on the Ohio STEM Learning Network

Steve Krak, Program Manager of Ohio STEM Learning Network. Photos Ben French
Steve Krak, Program Manager of Ohio STEM Learning Network. Photos Ben French

Related Images

Related Tags

What is the Ohio STEM Learning Network?

It's a network of STEM R&D platforms in Ohio that take responsibility not just for innovation, but for tech transfer into their regions. What we are talking about are places where education innovation happens, but the schools are also responsible for spreading that innovation through a region. They may do that through awareness, through communications, through professional development opportunities for teachers, or through business-to-business conversation about how do I engage or make a difference in education in my region to grant resources that are available? So their job is not just to be a clearinghouse but to be a connecting point. It's why we call them hubs. And then we connect all those regional hubs so they can be more effective in a network. And that's what we refer to as the Ohio STEM Learning Network.

What's Battelle's involvement?

Battelle co-designed this network from the beginning, recognizing that need for the R&D function that takes responsibility for the tech transfer that's really missing in the education systems in Ohio. And the systems engineering people at Battelle think like this on a daily basis. And so we designed this work and offered to manage it, and that is to say we manage the network. We don't manage the schools, we don't manage the partnerships per se. We manage the network of activity -- so we're always trying to bring the right kind of work to the network to keep it moving, to keep it vibrant and to keep it relevant to itself.

Describe how the network developed, how it was set up and how long it's been around.

Back when House Bill 119 was being created (H.B. 119 funded Ohio's 2008-2009 biennium budget), there was good movement on the part of the Ohio Business Rountable Roundtable to turn up the burner on STEM investments by the state of Ohio. H.B. 119 was a $200-million investment in STEM education, primarily in higher education, but a chunk of it was to be for k-12. At the same time, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was buzzing around the nation looking, as they always do, for good education investments. They were pretty interested in what they saw in Ohio at the policy level and they were looking for the right points of entry. They visited the Metro Early College High School, which is a platform school, and it's the whole small school big footprint mindset created by Battelle, the Ohio State University and the Educational Council, a consortium of 16 Franklin County School districts. And when they toured Metro they were very excited about this STEM-focused, project-based small school designed to have an impact in its region. They wanted to know who was behind this thing and we told them who the partners were and started working with them to see what might be possible.

When House Bill 119 was created, we offered to contribute to the design of the RFPs for startup funds around STEM platform high schools or middle schools. We said to the state, 'if you would allow us to include these simple design principles in the RFP, we will follow up with funding opportunities that will reinforce and amplify what you're trying to do.' So those private funds were from the Gates Foundation and from Battelle.

When people think of STEM, they usually think of science, technology engineering and math. What you're talking about is a completely different way of approaching the learning process, isn't it?

Exactly right. And I'm going to start repeating this as often as I can. We will get there when people forget what the acronym means. And I'm hoping we're going to get there, where you say STEM and people think about a different way of teaching, very project-driven, interdisciplinary, wrapped around the community, all those kinds of elements. And the other thing that it does is it totally embraces comprehensive education; it doesn't leave the arts behind. It doesn't leave the humanities behind.

Could you talk about the importance of the business community to STEM education and how those partnerships look?

A lot of businesses are getting their talent very regionally, if they can. It makes it easier for recruiting, it makes it easier for training and bringing in talent early, and -- of course -- a lot of the technology-based businesses specifically are facing the same baby boom cliff that Battelle and others face. So, there's a bit of urgency involved here. Additionally, in Ohio there are a lot of industries that do work for the federal government and have restrictions that encourage them to do a lot of domestic hiring. So all that rolls into a desire to be more involved. Almost everybody thinks that we ought to be educating kids to be prepared for college opportunities or entrance into careers. And if we're doing that, we ought to have those business partners having an impact on what the educational experience is like.

How do you make the case for businesses who may not think they have the resources to become involved in the schools?

One of the beliefs we have, and we've seen it play out with many participants, that if done well this doesn't actually take away from your margin. In fact it might even add to it. We've seen it happen. There's one gentleman who runs a small laser outfit in Dayton, and he came in with exactly that question. And he has gotten very involved. He hires high school aged interns for his company, and it not only has created awareness and increased morale, but he literally has gotten labor that's been very useful for his company and created his own pipeline of employees.

You've got a couple of new hubs being formed to complement those centered in Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Cleveland and Dayton. What do you see happening network-wide in the next few years?

One of the big unanswered questions in the first couple of years of the Ohio STEM Learning Network was about the rural regions of Ohio. Among the original design flaws was the lack of participation of southeast and northwest Ohio. In House Bill 1, the next biennium budget, we were able to get the state's cooperation to continue the investments forward, not just to fuel doing the exact same thing, but to move forward as the whole network moved forward and to fuel the beginning of hubs in those other two parts of Ohio. Nobody knows exactly how this is going to play out. Neither one of these hubs has a brick and mortar school such as the other regions. They have what they call a STEM platform, but it's going to be made of a collection of resources in their region.
Share this page