Mayor Daniel Bianchi, left, Ella King of Lee Middle School, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Allie Wolfe of Herberg Middle School of Herberg Middle School, and BCC President Ellen Kennedy at Thursday's Governor's STEM Advisory Council.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A day after Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announced he was stepping down from his elected position, he came to the Berkshires on Thursday to urge the Governor's STEM Advisory Council to continue its work after his departure as the council's chairman.
The council rotates around the state, making Murray's last meeting at Berkshire Community College in front of an audience of about 50 people from interested organizations.
The former Worcester mayor was given a standing ovation and thanked for his service on the panel, which serves as the central coordinating entity to bring together all of the participants and parties from state agencies, the Legislature, and members of the public and private sectors involved with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics planning and programming.
"I really feel good about the momentum," Murray said. "I'm going to continue to play a role on the business sector side."
Murray announced Wednesday that he will resign as lieutenant governor on June 2 and will begin June 3 as president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. But on Thursday, despite the recent announcement attracting attention, the focus of the meeting stayed on that momentum the council has made since its inception 3 1/2 years ago.
David Cedrone, executive director of the council, talked about some of the council's accomplishments but focused primarily on the Comprehensive STEM Data Dashboard V1.0, which aims to strengthen the data collection and analysis pieces to measure if a program achieves its desired outcomes. (V2.0 is already being planned, with hopes for its unveiling at the 10th annual STEM Summit at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Nov. 13.)
"I think it will be very influential across all of our work," Cedrone said. "It is a very comprehensive data set around STEM on a national basis."
Not only will the Dashboard give a broader picture of STEM successes, it will also allow for "micro measures" of a specific piece of data — such as the number of young women going into engineering, for example, which has stayed very "flat," he said. That will allow programs all the way down to a school district level to target specific outcomes.
"I believe that moves the whole system much more quickly," he said.
And nowhere is that STEM movement more apparent than in the Berkshires.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will open its brand-new $40 million state-of-the art teaching and learning facility, the Center of Science and Innovation, this fall. MCLA already has some innovative STEM programs for its students, including tutoring and a "supplemental instructor" program that teams up trained students to help others with STEM classes.
The Berkshire County STEM Pipeline is a valuable recourse to educators, offering graduate credits free to area teachers and making things such as the inflatable StarLab planetarium available as part of the Regional Science Resource Center. And two Berkshire County high schools — Lee Middle and High School and Drury High School in North Adams — recently have joined the 53 other high schools that participate in the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative, which aims to raise participation and performance in Advanced Placement courses, particularly among underserved populations, to prepare students for college and career success in STEM fields.
Christopher Himes, STEM program manager at MCLA, talks about the STEM support programs MCLA offers its students.
But impressive STEM achievements can be found in students even younger than those in college and high school — such as the two Berkshire County middle schoolers who took a third-place honor
at the Region 1 Middle School Science and Engineering Fair at MCLA in April.
Ella King of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School and Allie Wolfe of Herberg Middle School presented their winning project, titled "Plant Pigment Segment Paper Chromatography," to the council on Thursday, just a week before they will travel to Worcester to the State Middle School Science & Engineering Fair on June 1 Worcester Technical High School.
Armed with a PowerPoint presentation and seeming incredibly poised in front of the large group of adults, the two girls discussed their project, explaining that their middle schools did not have science fairs so they took the initiative themselves.
"We did this science fair independently," King said, adding, "Also, we didn't know each other before this science fair."
By way of explanation, she offered that Wolfe was homebound recovering from injuries when they met.
"She was out of school and needed something to do, and I said, 'Why don't we do some science?'" she said.
King and Wolfe's presentation to the council was followed by a presentation by 2013 MCLA graduate Michael Wheelock, who spoke about "MARV" (Mobile Autonomous Robotic Vehicle), the robot that was his senior project. Cedrone said that having students give presentations at the STEM council meetings was a new idea that started with this BCC meeting but would continue.
"This will be a feature of future STEM meetings, to hear from students," he said. "While we adults are focused on the adult work ... the purpose of this is really focused on our students, our children.
"It is an honor to be here and meet you and see the work you are doing."