By WRAL Tech Wire STEM News

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – STEM education made great strides in North Carolina in 2011.

Business, 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 this year.

While impossible to list all of the worthwhile efforts reported on WRAL Tech Wire STEM News this year, here are the Top 11 STEM News stories of the year as chosen by our editorial staff and your readership:

State BoE adopts STEM strategy for North Carolina
North Carolina now has a STEM strategy. The N.C. State Board of Education approved a plan in November aimed specifically at boosting STEM education. This plan creates a coordinated blueprint to advance STEM education across North Carolina.

What makes a quality STEM program in North Carolina?
A free downloadable rubric was unveiled in December with the goal of helping improve local STEM education and develop quality STEM programs statewide. This rubric was developed by N.C. State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation in collaboration with the NC STEM Community Collaborative and N.C. Department of Public Instruction, as a part of the Golden LEAF Foundation’s STEM Initiative. Local school districts, including Wake County Public School System, also provided input. All districts and schools will have access to the tool.

YouTube Space Lab lifts off with Lenovo, others on board
YouTube and Lenovo, in cooperation with Space Adventures and several space agencies including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), revealed YouTube Space Lab in October to challenge 14-18 year-old students to design a science experiment that can be performed in space. The two winning experiments will be conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and streamed live on YouTube in 2012.

Business can benefit from more education involvement
The third annual NC Chamber Education Summit was held in August in Chapel Hill and focused on the need for bold new efforts to encourage more corporate involvement in strengthening the education system.

North Carolina Schools work to advance STEM education
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) revealed new efforts in October to continue advancing STEM education in North Carolina. The new partnership with the NC STEM Community Collaborative is a part of the state’s “Race to the Top” award, which provides federal funding for the Career & College, Ready, Set, Go! initiative conceived and adopted by North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue. The $500,000 contract awarded to NC STEM is expected to run through spring 2012.

New Schools Project raises match to secure federal grant
The North Carolina New Schools Project (NCNSP) raised $1.5 million in a required private-sector match for a $15 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant administered through the U.S. Department of Education. NCNSP made the announcement in December. The actual project was selected in early November from among nearly 600 applicants across the country to be one of 23 organizations to potentially share $150 million under the i3 program.

Hagan, Dalton and others highlight state’s STEM efforts
More than 200 business, government, and education leaders from all over the country heard about North Carolina’s innovative efforts to improve STEM education during a national conference call in late October that featured representatives of some of the country’s top organizations. The hour-long teleconference highlighted a number of STEM education efforts underway throughout the country, and featured several executives representing companies such as Facebook, Monster, Cisco, LinkedIn, Battelle, Northrup Grumman, and more. A portion of the teleconference highlighted North Carolina efforts and included remarks from U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), Lt. Governor Walter Dalton, and Karl Rectanus, leader of the NC STEM Community Collaborative.

STEM education gets financial boost in eastern NC
The Golden LEAF Foundation and Spirit AeroSystems presented more than $350,000 to STEM East during the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce’s Business after Hours event held at the Spirit Composite Center of Excellence in August at the Global TransPark. Golden LEAF provided $350,000. Spirit provided $3,250. Both checks were presented to the North Carolina Eastern Region to help promote STEM among public school students in eastern N.C.

Report: STEM skills vital to North Carolina’s workforce
The North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development’s State of the Workforce Report (SOTW) 2011-2020 released in June revealed that communities can replace the low-skilled jobs previously forming the backbone of their economy with more lucrative, knowledge-based jobs. But, workers need STEM skills to be qualified for these jobs.

N.C. Virtual Public School among fastest growing in U.S.
Gov. Bev Perdue announced in February that North Carolina’s Virtual Public School was one of the fastest growing virtual schools in the nation, topping 70,000 in enrollments at the end of 2010. This year’s 2010 Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning report lists NCVPS the second largest virtual school in terms of enrollment.

Golden LEAF supports STEM, health education project
Educators are betting on NASCAR’s popularity to help boost an interest in science and math and promote healthy lifestyles among 7th and 8th grade students in the Charlotte and Kannapolis areas and surrounding Piedmont counties. The project, funded in May by a $300,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, is collaboration among the N.C. Biotechnology Center, Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab on the N.C. Research Campus, North Carolina Motorsports Association, Discovery Place in Charlotte, and UNC Charlotte’s motorsports engineering program.

Just missing the top 11…

STEM jobs offer higher pay, lower unemployment
Science and technology jobs see better pay, job security and swelling growth opportunities in the coming decade, according to a federal study released in July.

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