Pre-college STEM education and economic development make a virtuous cycle

ArticleDetailDownload PDF

When politicians discuss regional economic development policy, they usually talk about how government, universities and industry should work together to create the right environment for local economies to thrive. Cliff Zintgraff, from the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT) in the United States, believes a key point is missed when primary and secondary schools are not included in the equation. He argues that STEM education – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – and economic development go hand in hand, creating a virtuous cycle.

How can we harness technology and build a knowledge economy? That’s the question faced by politicians around the world, as they seek to create the policy framework for local and regional economic development.

At the local level, urban and regional administrations are usually already talking to universities and industry about the technology policy required to support economic growth and ensure that industry has both the research input and graduate output it requires. Increasingly, such conversations include representatives from schools for pupils aged from kindergarten to year 12 (‘K-12’). However, such involvement is essentially philanthropic and is not seen as part of the region’s economic development strategy. Furthermore, when regional strategy conversations start, universities, industry and government stay in the room, but K-12 is often no longer included.

N.Savranska/Shutterstock.com

Cliff Zintgraff, from the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology, believes local government should integrate primary and secondary schools into local and regional technology policy. He argues that this would provide a context for the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, ‘STEM’ subjects, as an integrated topic. In addition, he argues that, if done correctly, this not only helps to teach STEM subjects more creatively, it also creates a “virtuous cycle” which helps to produce the workforce that local companies need.

The new model proposed by Dr Zintgraff and his colleagues is that of the “STEM technopolis”. The technopolis was originally conceived in the 1980s as a “city or region whose economy, at least in substantial part, is built on technology-driven fields”. Dr Zintgraff presents the thinking behind the new “STEM technopolis” model, explains the tools supporting it, and gives global case study examples of where it has been successfully applied, in a new book STEM in the Technopolis: The Power of STEM Education in Regional Technology Policy.

“The aim is to make STEM education a full participant in local technology and development policy.”

Technopolis model

The model of the technopolis was conceived by George Kozmetsky and colleagues. Dr Kozmetsky founded the economic development think tank, the IC² Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, where Dr Zintgraff received his master’s degree and worked for ten years. Austin has since become a major centre of technology industries and a leading seat of learning in STEM core fields, and in STEM education. IC² had early involvement in high school entrepreneurship and technology training programmes, and the city’s good education system was a key factor in attracting technology company employees to move to the city.

Dr Zintgraff believes that building STEM education into urban technology policy will boost regional development. BAZA Production/Shutterstock.com

Dr Zintgraff argues that both primary and secondary schools should be included in STEM policy and thinking—in other words, in a STEM Technopolis. As he explains, one should include in the technopolis “the hundreds of millions of students, taught by tens of millions of teachers, supported by hundreds of thousands of volunteers, who deliver STEM education to children around the world”.

The starting point for the technopolis is the identification of a city or region’s “industry clusters” – the businesses based around a field of interest that drive the local economy. According to the technopolis model, industry clusters are the focus around which technopolis participants operate, from students, families, teachers, schools and colleges, to employers and the city or region’s development authorities.

Once identified, STEM education can be aligned with industry clusters, and collaborations between industry and schools can develop. Dr Zintgraff explains: “For schools, industry clusters can provide content inspiration, vocal support, volunteers, mentors and funding. For industry, programmes aligned with their interests provide rich outlets for philanthropic activity and feed the talent pipelines that can fuel a virtuous cycle for the cluster”.

The aim is to make STEM education a “full participant in local technology and development policy” and bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics together as an integrated K-12 subject. In this way students not only study the subjects and make use of technology in their learning, learning is also put into context and is based on the local community’s authentic, real-world concerns. Learning theories and methods develop alongside technology to deliver this approach.

Medellín in Colombia. KreaFoto/Shutterstock.com

Virtuous cycle model

The identification of a city or region’s industry clusters is the prerequisite for the second model linking technology and economic development – the virtuous cycle model. Dr Zintgraff argues that identifying industry clusters and building STEM education into urban or regional technology policy can help to drive a virtuous cycle of development which improves the quality of life for everyone.

Dr Zintgraff explains: “Priority industry clusters directly or indirectly inspire educators to build relevant education experiences and programmes. Industry, governments, universities and non-profits provide vocal support, in-kind contributions, mentors and funding. Students get engaged, select more STEM coursework, and get into college. Those students compete and get jobs in local STEM-related industry clusters. Now employees, these former students give back to schools and so do their companies”.

The concept of the virtuous cycle depends on the presentation of STEM education within the context of local development challenges, and on the fact that students both study and use technology to find solutions. It also needs to be supported by appropriate educational approaches, for example, interdisciplinary learning, project-based learning and experiential learning.

Virtuous cycles of pedagogical reform and economic development can be aided by local government and other actors, whose role is to remove barriers, raise awareness of contributors’ actions, facilitate partnerships and, if necessary, fund programmes. When such factors are in place, industry clusters can help to drive the cycle forward by contributing topics for study, as well as professional mentors and resources. By helping to build and own the city or region’s “brand”, all actors, including students, can help to boost the community’s self-image and become part of the solution, to mutual benefit.

Students learnt how technology can solve societal problems. Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com

Medellín

The benefits of technology-based economic development have been experienced in many forward-thinking cities around the world. These include three flagship communities featured in the book, San Antonio in Texas, Taipei in Taiwan and Medellín in Colombia, which are highlighted among others as case studies.

In the 1980s, for example, Medellín was a global hub for the cocaine trade and dubbed “the most dangerous city in the world”. It has since rebuilt both its image and local economy, such that in 2012 CitiBank and the Wall Street Journal named it “the most innovative city in the world” on account of the advances it had made in politics, education and social development.

“The case study cities demonstrate the positive impact of STEM education being viewed as a concern larger than the schools themselves.”

Those advances were made possible by the development of various programmes and initiatives, including the STEAM education project – a project which added art into the STEM mix. Designed to introduce project-based learning methods to Medellín educators, the educators went on to develop curricula aligned with problems identified by the city’s industry clusters. The University of Texas at Austin, including IC2 and the university’s College of Education, supported this work within an integrated combination of STEM education and regional development expertise. After the education participants trained additional teachers in their own schools, the programme finally involved 1,440 students.

In the sphere of education, Dr Zintgraff explains that Medellín “framed educational experiences within the development goals of the city”. For example, the city had identified health as one of its industry clusters and so teachers developed a series of technology-led programmes which developed the curriculum around such things as ways to deliver minimum water allocations to poor citizens, and how video games might teach citizens about health. Taking a project-based learning approach, students used technology in their learning and studied how technology can help to solve societal problems.

Marlon Lopez MMG1 Design/Shutterstock.com

Looking beyond technology as an end in itself, Dr Zintgraff argues that Medellín’s success lies in its community leaders’ recognition of the need to prepare students at an early age and the power in making real-world connections. It also lies in working with all sectors of the community and making technology a matter of social and digital equity. By integrating technological, educational and social change, the result has been an improvement in daily life for everyone, including those from disadvantaged sections of the community, who gain more hope for their future.

Dr Zintgraff’s collaborator Alejandro Roldán presents a detailed case study of Medellín in the new book.

Conclusion

Forward-thinking local communities around the world are already integrating pre-college STEM education, university and college programmes with industry clusters. They are supporting this by developing policies to drive economic development, improve educational experience and lead students to rewarding careers.

Dr Zintgraff and his colleagues argue that the experience of flagship cities like Medellín is proof that economic, social and political goals are compatible with school models and school reform. These cities “demonstrate the potential for positive impact when STEM education is viewed as a concern larger than the schools themselves” and that the technopolis and virtuous cycle models can be replicated elsewhere to the benefit of schools and communities worldwide.


The case studies in the book are inspiring, especially that of Medellín. What impressed you most of all when you were working with local communities there in the STEAM education project?

The energy of the participants, both teachers and students! And the foresight, vision, and consistent long-term efforts of city leadership. When I first went to Medellín, even on the first taxi ride, I was exposed to the city’s mantra, la mas educada (the most educated). The city was determined to address its recent difficult history. They set their goal, and they set about making it happen. The result? A can-do attitude at every level I encountered, and programmes in education and more designed to lift all citizens, especially those with the greatest need.

 

References

  • Zintgraff, C., Suh, S. C., Kellison, B., & Resta, P. E. (2020). STEM in the Technopolis: The Power of STEM Education in Regional Technology Policy. Springer International Publishing. https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783030398507
  • Zintgraff, C. (2020). The virtuous cycle: Global cases of K-12 STEM education in the technology policy of cities. In C. Zintgraff, S. C. Suh, B. Kellison, & P. E. Resta (Eds.), STEM in the Technopolis: The Power of STEM Education in Regional Technology Policy. Springer International Publishing.
  • Roldán Bernal, A. (2020). Medellín, A case of self-STEAM (esteem). In C. Zintgraff, S. C. Suh, B. Kellison, & P. E. Resta (Eds.), STEM in the Technopolis: The Power of STEM Education in Regional Technology Policy. Springer International Publishing.
DOI
10.26904/RF-136-1467775946

Research Objectives

Cliff Zintgraff’s research explores how forward-thinking local communities are integrating pre-college STEM education, STEM pedagogy, industry clusters, college programmes, and local, state and national policies to improve educational experiences, drive local development, gain competitive advantage for the communities, and lead students to rewarding careers.

Funding

  • The University of Texas at Austin, IC2 Institute
  • Society for Design and Process Science (SDPS)

Collaborators

  • Dr Sang Suh, Texas A&M University-Commerce
  • Dr Bruce Kellison, The University of Texas at Austin, IC2 Institute
  • Dr Paul Resta, The University of Texas at Austin, College of Education

Bio

Cliff Zintgraff’s research explores how forward-thinking local communities are integrating pre-college STEM education, STEM pedagogy, industry clusters, college programmes, and local, state and national policies to improve educational experiences, drive local development, gain competitive advantage for the communities, and lead students to rewarding careers.

Cliff Zintgraff’s

Contact
Address 6706 Bella Colina
San Antonio, Texas 78256

E: cliffz@cliffz.com
T: +1 210 274 2485 T: +1 210 274 2485
W: www.cliffz.com
W: https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783030398507

Related posts.

Comments.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share this article.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email