Grant to help promote STEM education

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WALLA WALLA — A local nonprofit that brings science explorations to middle school girls has benefited from a donation from the Verizon Wireless Foundation.

The Great Explorations in Education organization, the nonprofit arm of the Walla Walla branch of the American Association of University Women, was awarded a $4,000 grant, said Carol Morgan, GEE board of directors member.

Grant money will be used to help offset the costs of the 2013 Great Explorations Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Conference for girls in fifth through eighth grades. More than 300 girls have attended each of the group’s past two conferences, Morgan said.

Verizon timed its donation with the release of its 4G LTE network in the local market. The $4,000 donation is a play on the 4G cellular network, said Scott Charlston, Verizon spokesman.

Charlston said the Verizon Foundation supports education and charitable efforts, in particular those with a focus on STEM education. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The Walla Walla area is the company’s 400th market in the U.S. to receive the 4G LTE, high-speed wireless network. The network release, which was held Oct. 18 at the Verizon store in College Place, provided the chance to make a charitable donation, Charlston said. The Great Explorations in Education group was selected with help from the Blue Mountain Community Foundation because the group stresses the value of science-geared learning.

“There is a problem with kids just deciding in middle school, ‘I don’t like science, I don’t like technology, engineering, math,’” Charlston said. “We want to address programs that target that age group. We want to show them how powerful STEM education really is.”

The Great Explorations in Education conference in 2011 featured astronaut Dottie Metcalf, a Whitman College graduate, as the keynote speaker.

Morgan said part of the grant money will go to offset costs related to the conference such as needs-based fee waivers for participating students, and travel and presentation expenses for the keynote speaker.

Costs associated with the conferences also include panelists who present a parent and educator portion, and more than 20 women working in STEM careers who present in classrooms and conduct outreach for students in outlying school districts.

Great Explorations in Education partners with Whitman College, Walla Walla Public Schools and the YWCA to present the STEM program every two years, Morgan said.

The 2013 conference is scheduled March 23 at Whitman College and will feature keynote speaker Jody Wolf, Morgan said. Wolf is the assistant crime lab administrator with the Phoenix Police Department. “Think CSI,” Morgan said in an e-mail.

Charlston said careers in crime labs have gained appeal among young people in part because of television programming.

“Because of the popularity of the TV shows, it’s a very high profile type job,” Charlston said.

“Verizon hires a fair amount of people who are engineers and scientists and technologists,” he said. “We depend on the U.S. education system to turn out a good number of electrical, mechanical engineers, because we’re going to hire them.”

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