By Local Tech Wire STEM News

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – It was an historic year for STEM education in North Carolina.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – better known as STEM – received more media coverage this year than ever before. Although, it is still confused by many as STEM cell research or something else, the work of many in this state and nationally aided in fixing a branding problem among the masses.

Businesses large and small, state and federal government, educators, and countless individuals and volunteers in communities around the state put tremendous emphasis on preparing children – and themselves – for 21st century success in 2010.

While impossible to list all of the worthwhile efforts, here are to top STEM stories of the year:

This year’s top story by far came in August when North Carolina was one of 10 winners selected by the U.S. Department of Education in the second round of its Race to the Top competition, granting a portion of $3.4 billion to states who have provided plans to put their education systems in line with the federal government’s school reform goals. North Carolina received $400 million and was one of 18 states and the District of Columbia named as a finalists in the second round in July. Since losing in the first round earlier this year, the state made significant moves in the time between to beef up its proposal. Race to the Top is a major component of federal education reform efforts – with STEM as a major focus.

North Carolina is uniquely positioned to lead the nation in education reform, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), says IBM’s Stanley Litow. If you missed this exclusive Q&A with the president of IBM International Foundation and vice president of IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs, here’s your chance to check it out.

President Obama provided a sense of urgency to improve and strengthen STEM education in U.S. public schools in September when he said that he wanted to recruit 10,000 STEM teachers over the next two years. This announcement coincides with the bigger goal for the Obama administration to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade.

The North Carolina Chamber’s second annual Education Summit was held in Durham in early August with the goal of exploring how the education and business communities can "improve the learning experiences and job outcomes for students." Gov. Perdue also announced in detail her Career and College: Ready, Set, Go! initiative citing that, “business leaders need to know that when you hire someone educated in North Carolina, you will get a worker who can hit the ground running.”

The N.C. Joining Our Businesses and Schools (JOBS) Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, has been tasked to help ensure schools teach the skills that today’s businesses need. Key recommendations made by the commission this year include piloting high schools with a STEM focus, and the creation of a statewide STEM goal set by the Governor’s Education Cabinet to close the gap between available STEM-related jobs and the number of students with the skills and credentials necessary to fill them.

New survey released by Intel Corporation in November has sparked national debate about math and science confidence versus performance. Despite high personal confidence in math and science, American teenagers are not confident in their country’s ability to compete in these subjects. The findings from this survey and story reveal a problem illustrated by the United States’ poor performance on global rankings.

The U.S. Department of Education selected 49 applications out of more than 1,600 in August for potential funding through the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund. Three were selected in North Carolina including the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center, the Iredell-Statesville School System, and a partnership between Communities in Schools of North Carolina and Durham Public Schools.

The NC STEM Community Collaborative presented $50,000 to the Lenoir County STEM Design Team as an investment towards developing their innovative STEM Hub to be co-located within Spirit AeroSystems. This funding is in addition to more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind investments pledged by Lenoir businesses, non-profits, and other local investors for this project.

The Golden LEAF Foundation began seeking proposals for a special $4 million initiative in August geared toward preparing North Carolina’s youth for careers requiring STEM. Organizations receiving funding through the nonprofit were eligible to receive up to $750,000 for projects spanning a three-year period.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue expanded the role of the state’s eLearning Commission in September, giving a big boost to her new Career and College – Ready, Set, Go! initiative. Federal funding also will enable the commission to broaden its work in 2011.

Just missing the top 10…

Lenovo’s Mike Schmedlen says “science, technology, engineering and mathematics are the new vernacular for our increasingly interconnected world.” In addition to being a leader in STEM education reform at the highest level as well as a popular blogger, the PC-maker’s director of worldwide education provided an in-depth interview in September discussing education innovations at all levels and their impacts both here and abroad.

Thanks for a great year of STEM. However, there is much to do in 2011 – in North Carolina and nationwide.

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