Grants will support 12 South Dakota school research projects

Federal grants totaling $200,000 will support 12 research-related projects in South Dakota school districts and other educational agencies.

The state Education Department says the projects will involve science, technology, engineering and math. The grants are funded through the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

Grants are going to the Brookings, Canton, Harding County, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Sisseton school districts. Also receiving grants are Lake Area Multi District and the East Dakota Education Cooperative.



Workshop helps young women connect with engineering, technology

For high school women not sure what career path to choose, South Dakota State University has given them a chance to try engineering.

Ready SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) Go, an event specifically for high school girls, was held Nov. 3 on campus. The event is a one-day camp where girls are encouraged to explore the world of engineering by participating in three sessions of hands-on activities. SDSU saw 85 high school students attend the program.

Rebecca Schmieding, an International Business Machines retiree who now works for the Mayo Clinic, helped set up the event. Ready SET Go is a smaller model designed to encourage young girls to go into the engineering field.

“Diversity is important so that companies can meet the needs of their customers,” Schmieding said. “With the computer-related technologies such as dishwashers and laundry machine washers and dryers, it’s good to have a woman’s perspective on this technology because on average women use it more often than men.”

According to Secretary for the College of Engineering LaVonne Riechers, a mix of faculty workers, professionals and SDSU students contributed to putting the event together. Engineering professor Suzette Burckhard helped coordinate the structural engineering activity, which focused on the amount of force that bridges, towers, structures and even the human body can handle. The girls built structures and then tested their performance by using digital engineering tools.

Another activity focused on geospatial technologies. The students learned about technology such as global positioning systems, geographic information systems, remote sensing and satellite imagery websites.

Laura Froehlich, a second-year electrical engineering major, and Emily Parupsky, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major, helped with the third event. The students were taught about the different elements that allow electrical circuits to work. The girls were then given the opportunity to create Christmas tree ornaments based on these principles.

“This allows these girls to start building those relationships and connections if they do decide to go into engineering,” Parupsky said.

The sessions are new every year for Ready SET Go so that revisiting students aren’t required to go through the same activities.

Ready SET Go started in 2006 and has been active for the past seven years. Female engineering enrollment numbers at SDSU were 6.9 percent of the total engineering population in 2005 but are now 13.3 percent in 2012.

The camp was started for several reasons. Ready SET Go encourages young women to excel in whatever field they go into, especially male-dominated fields.

“Most talented females don’t pursue engineering because they don’t know what engineers do,” said Richard Reid, associate dean for the College of Engineering. “This workshop helps young girls know that there are options.”

For Alyssa Clemen, a junior engineering major at SDSU, the Ready SET Go camp reinforced her decision for college.

“This camp has helped young girls to decide either to go into engineering or not,” said Julie Clemen, Alyssa’s mother. “The camp does encourage the girls that yes, they can do engineering if they want to.”

The participants only pay $10 for the camp. The rest of the money for this event comes from alumni donations, IBM grants and various other sponsors.

“This event has big support from the SDSU and the engineering industries,” Schmieding said. “It’s a good approach of blending both industry and education in one event.”



Federal Funds Educate SD Math Teachers

Hundreds of South Dakota teachers are beefing up their math stills thanks to a federal grant.


South Dakota Counts has helped train hundreds of South Dakota teachers since it began in 2006.


It started with a budget of more than a million dollars, but as federal funding has dwindled over the last few years, so has the amount of money available to train the state's math teachers.


You'll hear more students talking in math classes these days. That's because teachers are encouraging students to discuss how they arrived at an answer. National math standards are changing. It's becoming just as important for students to understand there is more than one way to solve a problem as it is to come up with the correct answer.


"Going away from the yes, no; right or wrong.  And more of the why; what's the purpose?  How'd you do that? Can you show me another way?  That's really what we want to look at," South Dakota Department of Education mathematics program specialist William Kliche said.


Kliche oversees the South Dakota Counts grant program and says with a new math curriculum being introduced into classrooms this year, the money is especially important.


If it weren't for federal funding for the South Dakota Counts program, it's quite possible South Dakota teachers wouldn't get this training.


"This particular training is solely federally funded and to be able to pull this money in within the state of South Dakota would be difficult especially with the current conditions," Kliche said.


The South Dakota Counts program is currently applying for the federal grant dollars for the next three years. However, it will be at least next spring before the state finds out how much money will be available for math training for the 2013-2014 school year.


South Dakota hopes to receive at least $750,000 for next year to keep the math teacher training program widespread.




South Dakota stresses job skills tests
When the South Dakota Department of Labor brought a job-skills test to the state three years ago, Applied Engineering in Yankton saw its potential for matching candidates to specific jobs.
The precision machining company began including in its job postings that it prefers applicants with a National Career Readiness Certificate — a stamp of approval that a worker has job-ready math, reading and information-finding skills. The company even had one of its entry-level manufacturing jobs profiled to determine the skill levels it required.
But so far, the promise of readiness certificate has gone unfulfilled.
“We’ve seen very few candidates who have it,” said Bridget Benson, human resource specialist for Applied Engineering.
State officials want to raise the profile of the National Career Readiness Certificate this year. As part of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s work force initiative, SD Wins, the Legislature agreed to cover the $150 WorkKeys assessment costs for 2,000 high school juniors and seniors.
That’s a significant number considering only 2,927 South Dakotans have gained certification since September 2009.
Marcia Hultman, director of workforce services for the Department of Labor, said officials studied the readiness certificate seriously for two years before bringing it to the state.
“We found there was no tool in place to measure workforce skills,” she said. “We were really impressed how it was implemented in other states.”
The department contracts with job-training providers throughout the state to administer the skills assessments and helps some job-seekers pay for the tests. It’s been mostly adults who pursue the certification, but that won’t be the case this year.
Twenty-four high schools have signed up to host an assessment day for a total of 1,664 students, and money remains available for more.
“We just feel like it really helps that age group to know what their skills are,” Hultman said.
T.F. Riggs High School in Pierre took early advantage of the offer, testing 107 senior students in spring.
“Any time we can give our kids some kind of an edge when they leave here, whether in the world of work or otherwise, we want to take advantage of that opportunity,” Principal Kevin Mutchelknaus said. “It’s competitive out there.”
Created by the same company that owns the ACT college-entrance exam, readiness certificates can be valuable for students seeking full-time employment right after high school, as well as those enrolling in college, state officials said.
“I think it does have an application for no matter what job you’re looking at,” Hultman said, but it won’t carry as much weight as a college degree for professional jobs.
The readiness certificates soon could become a fixture in South Dakota high schools.
The state Board of Education last month approved a new system of school accountability that is to include a career-readiness marker starting in 2014-15. The readiness certificate is the most likely candidate to fill that role.
“It gives a good indication of career readiness with different levels,” Education Secretary Melody Schopp said.
Test-takers can earn platinum, gold, silver or bronze level certification, which could be used to identify which schools are and are not adequately preparing students for jobs. Under Obama administration rules, states receiving waivers from No Child Left Behind must measure college- and career-readiness for each high school.
Schopp said the 2,000-student pilot this year will inform decisions about the school accountability system. One potential problem is that the state does not pay for students to take the ACT or NCRC tests, so it will be difficult to fairly compare schools with disparate participation rates.
The readiness certificate is “not something that’s paid for at this time, so that would be something to think about,” Schopp said.
At Applied Engineering, Benson was glad to hear the state is promoting the job-skills tests.
“It’s still very new, and a lot of people don’t know what it is,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential with this program.”


First Lady promotes STEM Education

The First Lady is actively promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education, commonly referred to as the STEM fields. STEM educated students can pursue careers in accounting, engineering, information technology, and health care, among other opportunities. Between 2008 and 2018, South Dakota is projected to need an additional 8,000 workers in health care alone.

"STEM careers are in high demand and are an important part of our economy," said the First Lady. "Training in a STEM field is a great way to find a rewarding, high paying job right here in South Dakota." "I encourage students to consider getting a degree in a STEM field." 

To promote STEM education, the First Lady has visited Scrubs camps across the state. Scrubs camp is a project of the South Dakota Department of Health put on statewide with the help of many important partners. Scrubs Camp is designed to give high school students a hands-on introduction to health careers available in South Dakota.