A new program to create more schools focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education will prepare Ohio students to better compete in a global marketplace, state officials said Jan. 30.

The Ohio STEM Learning Network—a nonprofit initiative that will oversee the program—will begin with the creation of five math and science schools in different regions of the state by 2009.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, and state lawmakers announced the program at Metro High School, a science and math school that opened in 2006 on the campus of Ohio State University. The new program will be financed with the help a $12 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization established by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Each of the new schools will be the hub in a wider network connecting students studying biological sciences, for example, with a professional outlet such as the Cleveland Clinic, where they could use hands-on science skills in a practical environment. Another region, which might focus on engineering, would expose students to real-life engineering training.

“We’re in a global economy, and we’ve got to compete,’ said House Speaker Jon Husted, a Kettering Republican who is one of the central backers of the education program. “And we are. Today represents a wonderful step in that direction.”

In 1970, half of those who held engineering and science degrees were Americans, but by 2010 that number will drop to 15 percent, according to a U.S. Department of Education statistic cited by Husted.

Ohio lawmakers also have set aside $100 million for a technology-focused college scholarship program created in the current two-year state budget plan. Dozens of states have begun to emphasize STEM education in order to transition to a more research-based economy.

The Learning Network, which will be managed by Columbus-based Battelle—the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization—hopes by 2015 to double the number of college graduates in Ohio with degrees in science, math, and technology disciplines.

The five regional schools will target minorities and students who come from low-income families, in keeping with the Gates Foundation’s goal of making cutting-edge educational reform available to all students, regardless of race or economic means, said Steve Seleznow, education program director for the foundation.

The purpose of the program is to encourage students to develop problem-solving skills in group settings rather than using rote memorization, advocates said. Students said in a video presentation that they could, for example, use physics and math skills to create video games.



Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation