STEM gap

This tech academy is using project-based learning to close the STEM gap

The Chicago Tech Academy has partnered with industry mentors to help students develop real-world skills

SAP, one of ChiTech’s tech partners, provides sustained support for the school through employee-student engagements that are intended to equip ChiTech students with the skills they need to confront global challenges and thrive in a digital economy.

“Part of SAP’s mission focuses on engaging with the next-generation workforce and helping them understand the requirements that will be placed on them,” said Pat McCarthy, an executive at SAP Ariba and a member of the school’s board. “STEM is a big focus for us.”

SAP employees and ChiTech students work together through one-on-one mentoring and day-long engagements where they mock up and develop products and ideas, such as apps they pitch to SAP executives.

Industry professionals also help students develop an entrepreneurial and workforce mindset and teach them how technology can help clients in different industries take advantage of various market opportunities.

“We’re helping students understand their brand and why it matters,” McCarthy said. “I think what we see developing here is a very symbiotic relationship. We’re helping the students grow and learn, but we’re also helping our customers in the industry in the sense that we have to get these kids interested in tech earlier.”

The industry partnerships also help ChiTech’s teachers ensure their lessons reflect the real world.

“We engage the adult-to-adult connections as well, such as focusing on ways to make the curriculum more meaningful,” Garrett said. “That has really driven our ideas around innovation and creativity. We take a lot of technology principles and put them in our curriculum. There’s lots of critique and feedback, and teachers revise things based on what did and didn’t work.”

Students benefit from their teachers’ knowledge along with the industry knowledge that mentors bring with them.

“Design thinking, collaboration, all these things we know as adults that make us better at what we do — we have to put into our classroom. Our students deserve that,” Garrett said.

Laura Ascione

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