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Norwin considers proposal for STEM center at North Huntingdon campus

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 12:51 a.m.

Norwin School District administrators announced on Monday a proposal for Norwin STEM Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art learning and conference facility at the district's North Huntingdon campus.

Work done in the building would focus on STEM — the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Having the building would allow students to prepare for the high-technology jobs of the future, according to a district news release. The facility would serve as a professional development center for K-12 educators at Norwin and across the region through a partnership with a Pittsburgh STEM education nonprofit.

“It is unique. It is different. It is innovative. I believe ... it is the future,” district Superintendent William Kerr said about the center.

Kerr said in an email that he is not aware of any other K-12 district in the state doing what Norwin is proposing.

STEM education has never been more important than now, Kerr said.

Officials anticipate that the building can be built without tax dollars. Instead, the proposal relies heavily on business-education partnerships.

To ensure that the cost burden would not fall to taxpayers, the district would not commit to financing the project until sufficient funding has been secured, according to a district news release.

The center would be financed and built after a process of identifying business-education tenants that are committed to leasing space on a long-term basis, as well as seeking funds through the state capital improvement program, grants, foundations and alumni. Naming rights will be considered, as well as sectional pods or learning labs within the facility.

That model, according to the district, would provide opportunities for STEM-related business and industry investors, nonprofit organizations, private entities and higher education agencies to offer on-campus instruction, mentorships, internships, cooperative learning experiences and work-study programs for Norwin students.

The center would complement a student's traditional school work at Norwin, Kerr said in an email.

The district said it has established working relationships with ASSET STEM Education and with the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC).

ASSET STEM Education has expressed an interest in establishing a satellite site at Norwin's campus, according to the district. ASSET (Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching) STEM is a national nonprofit, with an office in Pittsburgh, focused on improving STEM education.

The JROTC program could be offered to high school students as soon as 2014. Part of the program would focus on aerospace science.

The country is facing a “STEM crisis” in education, training and workforce development, according to a district news release. Many high-technology jobs are projected in the future, but there are not enough scientifically and technologically skilled workers to fill them.

The Norwin STEM Innovation Center would offer an answer to that problem, according to the district.

Career areas to be taught at the center may include manufacturing technology, health care, education, biomedical, bioscience and medical technology, pharmacy, dentistry, renewable and clean energy, environmental sciences, aviation and aerospace, and information technology.

Officials said they envision scientists and engineers working with and tutoring freshmen and sophomores through projects, and juniors and seniors participating in internships with STEM experts.

Exactly how a day in the life of a student would look is still a work in progress, Kerr said.

The district intends to collaborate with — not compete with — the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center, as well as Westmoreland County Community College. Students will continue to have to opportunity to enroll in an industry-based program at the career and technology center.

Kerr asked the school board to authorize a feasibility study to determine whether building the center is the proper next step for the district.

The school board will consider authorizing the administration to identify STEM-related businesses and industries that would be interested in participating.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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