Thursday, May 12, 2011

Foundation becomes pro-active with Whitley Forward

By TRSmith
Editor
Leadership Whitley County alumni get together on occasion, inviting a guest speaker to talk about a current topic.
There are few hotter topics than northeast Indiana’s economy. Everyone knows someone who has been laid off and desperately seeking employment.
Lori Shipman of the Whitley County Commuity Foundation outlined the organization’s Whitley Forward program, which focuses on advancing science, technology, engineering,and mathmatics, at the Brownstone on State, Friday, May 6.
Attending the meeting were Melinda Woll, Jennifer Zartman-Romano, Tania Keirn, Sara Lochner-Goff and Tina Houser.
The foundation’s belief, Shipman said, is that an advanced degree is now mandatory. A high school diploma is no longer “good enough” to get by in today’s global economy.
That statement was backed by Steptember McConnell, Whitley County Foundation executive director in a telephone conversation earlier this week.
“Northeast Indiana, Whitley County is in the midst of an economic decline,” McConnell said. “Our per capita income has been on a downward slope for the past 15 years. What does this mean? For every dollar the average American worker makes, we now only make 80 cents. Compare this to 1995 when local workers made 99 cents to the nation’s dollar average. This decline must be stopped and reversed.”
The Whitley Forward is the foundations’ board of directors solution, a proactive solution to change attitudes about the STEM subjects, starting with children as young as four- or five-years-old and through their primary and secondary school years.
“The Whitley County Foundation looked to the east, at the defense industry growing in Fort Wayne and to the west, at the thriving  bio-medical orthopaedics industry in Warsaw,” she said. “These two industries will have wonderful job opportunities in the engineering and advanced manufacturing fields.
“So to meet that demand, we’re preparing a workforce that can acquire those jobs.
“The defense industry has to stay i the US. However, if they don’t have a talented workforce to draw from, they won’t stay here. They are demanding highly skilled workers.”
The foundation board came to the decision that they are capable of strategically addresisng issues and they’ll do it thorugh more pro active grant making. The education of the community has become a goal.
And that education is not just for students. It is for parents and grandparents, too.
“We’re trying to change the culture of a community,” McConnell said. “This community seems very tied to the roots that ‘good enough is good enough.’ Maybe this is a reflection of agrarian roots. Times are changing. Good enough isn’t good enough any more.
“It’s really about protecting the future of Whitley County, to compete on a global statge.”
Whitley Forward’s three year goals is to promote the idea that a post secondary education is a necessity, not a maybe. And it doens’t mean a four-year college, shorter term vocational courses are another way to secure a high-paying job.
A second goal is to provide the school districtes with the resources to offer STEM-based courses, to encourage students to embrace science, technology, engineering and math.
“But kids think that if they like math, they have to be come a math teacher,” McConnell said.
McConnell said the area day care workers are trained to show pre schoolers how to use Lady Bug kits and magent kits.
A Lego Robiotics class at Indiana Springs and Churubusco middle schools has been funded.
At Whitko High School science teacher Melissa Visallai has  developed a Project Lead The Way for students interested in the bio medical field.
Funding has been made available for a WHS student to attend an engineering camp this summer.
And all the middle schools have been visited by a Mad Scientist.
“We think the more the message is imparted to the kids by the time they’re in the middle school, the more they’ll be able to embrace the idea.”
Whitley Forward is starting a program finding “STEM champions” in the high schools. Teachers will visit places like Micropulse and Biomet and USSI and share their perceptions with the students.
Because girls don’t often think about science and math careers, Whitley Forward plans to bring successful women engineers, scientists and mathematicians to them.
“I’m so proud of all three school systems in the county,” McConnell said. They understand what it’s going to take. They’re so challenged financially and wnat to see things unfold.
“Where the school has shortfalls, we’ve made up for that.”
To learn more about STEM opportunities in the region go to Talent Made Here for great resources and videos for students, educators and parents. On the Internet at www.talentmadehere.com

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