According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children born in the Generation Alpha club, “are the first generation to be born entirely within the 21st century,” a generation deeply immersed in technology.
Generation Alpha are those born between 2010 and 2025; they are the generation that follows Gen Z. These youngsters hail from an era marked by rapid technological advances, robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence. And not surprisingly, some of the jobs that were around in 2010 when the first Gen Alphas were born, will no longer exist when they celebrate their 21st birthday.
Even though technology adoption causes a significant labor displacement initially, history has proven that in the long run, it creates a vast number of new jobs, including a multitude of supportive roles, which brings me to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers and what they mean to Gen Alpha filling STEM jobs domestically or internationally, a demand that will increase exponentially.
Families looking for educational opportunities to help prepare their children for a successful career may want to consider STEM education, and an excellent place to start is the K-12 STEM Outreach Center at the Atwood Innovation Plaza located on the campus of Dixie State University (DSU) in St. George.
According to Cari Heizer, Outreach Coordinator for the College of Science, Engineering & Technology at Dixie State University, the K-12 STEM Outreach Center facilities the K-12 STEM Pipeline at DSU, which includes STEM programming and outreach for students and teachers in K-12. It also offers internship opportunities for DSU students and Washington County career and technical education (CTE) high school students.
Heizer describes the Center as a safe place for young people to explore, create, and innovate while building their skills to be successful in the careers of the future. Experiences at the Center, she says, include afterschool programs, workshops, open lab times, and summer camps in coding, robotics, engineering, and sciences led by DSU students and faculty.
Participants are challenged to try new things and adopt a growth mindset, which allows students to grow from their failures and not give up, Heizer explained. “Our programs are run by DSU students, faculty, and volunteers who have a passion for STEM education and love to see young people find their niche in STEM fields,” says Heizer. Registration for the spring programs open November 1, 2021.
The Center also offers a growing number of summer camp programs, including camps for girls and interdisciplinary camps for students with an interest in music or chess. They’re even looking forward to a superhero camp this summer, Heizer said excitedly.
How is the program funded?
According to Heizer, the K-12 STEM Pipeline is primarily funded through ongoing legislative moneys, which allows them to hire interns and AmeriCorps members and extend their reach in the community. It also allows them to purchase equipment and supplies that make their programs unique and fresh each year.
They do charge a small amount for program registration fees; however, they have been extremely fortunate to have the support of the STEM Action Center of Utah and TDS, who have provided scholarship funds for families who cannot afford to pay. “It is our goal not to turn any student away due to inability to pay,” said Heizer.
“We have been extremely fortunate to have very generous donors, without whom we wouldn’t be where we are today. Don and Peggy Watkins made the first donation to our Center in memory of their daughter Micah. We have a picture of her in the display cabinet just outside of our Makerspace. I look at it every time I walk by and think about how this space has already brought so many people together for such good work.
“I think about Guy and Paula Fugel, who are more than donors, they are family. They have provided funding to bring our space to the next level. I think about Lindsay Atwood, whose dream it was to create a space where the community could grow and learn and make a difference in the world. Without his vision, we wouldn’t have this space that has been so generously provided by support from the Business Resource Center, the Udvar Hazy College of Business, and the College of Science, Engineering & Technology.”
A welcoming space where dreams become reality
Heizer says it’s no secret she has big dreams for this space that are only limited by time, funding, and her need to sleep a bit. “In my vision, I see a welcoming space where students can create the things that they dream. I see kids coming to a summer camp at six-years-old and making the space their home away from home for the next 18 years.”
She sees a place where students can learn the skills they need to be successful both inside and out of the classroom. She sees progressive employment with students becoming mentors, leaders, interns, and permanent staff, sharing what they have learned and inspiring the next generation of makers, coders, and entrepreneurs. Or, she says, they leave and build something that we could never have imagined and then they come back to share their secrets.
“I see a permanent computer lab/esports center. In my vision, I see a space that is the model of a space for every community — a safe space for kids to grow and build and learn.”
Working with local schools and the community
The K-12 STEM Outreach Center loves working with schools, community groups, and local companies to provide opportunities for students in the community to thrive. The Center also participates in STEM nights at several local schools.
“My student staff love coming up with new ideas for projects to do at STEM night booths. We often make project kits in-house on our laser cutter or 3D printer and try to create fun and engaging activities that haven’t been seen before.”
Heizer says the Center has fantastic community partners, including 4-H/USU Extension. Because of their focus on youth development and a fun, scaffolded curriculum, the Center hosts a 4-H Club on campus and provides several 4-H programs such as, Scratch & Python coding, LEGO® Robotics, Wear Tec (sewable circuits and wearable technologies), and their newest project, Sew Fun!
As part of the STEM Pipeline, they partner with local engineering and tech companies to create opportunities for students to participate in activates such as, Code Camp where students work alongside industry professionals in a 24-hour hack-a-thon competition to show their skills and gain insight from leaders in the field. This year Code Camp will be held at Vasion on Tech Ridge, so students will feel just like industry professionals as they work on the next best app, game, or website, says Heizer.
One of the Center’s latest developments is its collaboration with USU Extension, where they will partner to provide leadership experiences to high school students so they can further their reach and help train the next generation of STEM interns and volunteers for both organizations.
Another great program that brings the community together is the FIRST® LEGO® League, explained Heizer. Teams from across Southern Utah participate with their community groups or schools to demonstrate their teamwork and problem solving skills as they tackle robotic and community challenges. Volunteers with a love of engineering, robots, and LEGO® provide life-long memories for their young participants.
By far, Heizer’s favorite new partnership is with the Washington County School District’s CTE Internship program. “I was fortunate to participate in their mock interview day and from that point on, I was hooked,” she said. They hired five high school students and one program graduate who do outstanding work and surprise her every day. The interns are supported by the most incredible group of teachers, Mike Hassler, Sophia Ford, and Madison Rej, who prepare them for work-based learning programs that are nothing short of amazing, said Heizer.
All learners are welcome to the Center
When I asked Heizer if the programs are only available to children in Washington County, she said they have a commitment to inclusion and therefore welcome all learners to the Center.
“Students don’t need to live in Southern Utah to participate in our programs. We had summer camp students from all over Utah and Nevada participate last summer. Students who participate on their own must be in grades kindergarten and above, but we are happy to announce the return of our Mom & Me program this spring, with registration opening on November 1, 2021.”
Everyone is invited to stop by and visit the K-12 Stem Outreach Center at Innovation Plaza located on the west side of the building across from the DSU tennis courts, which is working every day to bring innovative and engaging programs to young people and families in the community.
“We welcome volunteers, ideas, and donations of all kinds. We are currently seeking old RC vehicles or other electronic toys, 1.75mm PLA filament remnants for our 3D printer pens, PVC pipe, large mint tins, sewing supplies/notions, and flower pots.”
Parents can register their young programmers, engineers, scientists, and designers at stem.dixie.edu or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.