Southwest Power Pool, the regional electric grid operator based in Little Rock, has partnered with the Little Rock School District in sponsoring programs to promote STEM education starting in elementary school and continuing on paths toward technical careers in Arkansas.
SPP, which manages the electric grid and wholesale energy markets in the central United States, said its STEM Outreach Program springs from President and CEO Nick Brown’s conviction that more should be done in Arkansas schools to encourage pursuits in science, technology, engineering and math.
To that end, SPP will sponsor the school district’s One District, One Book reading program, in which all elementary students will be given the same STEM-related book to read over four weeks this fall, along with sponsoring a middle school science fair competition that will enlist SPP employees as experts to help eighth-graders with electricity-related projects. The nonprofit corporation will also sponsor the district’s Excel program for gifted high schoolers, in which SPP professionals will coach students through conceiving and presenting proposals to solve real problems in the utility industry.
“There’s been tremendous investment at the high school and university level in our state to increase the quality of STEM education,” Brown said in a news release. “That’s wonderful, but it’s resulted in very few people entering the workforce pipeline at the other end. Many students, especially minorities and young women, opt out of the STEM career path early on because they’re taught it’s too difficult, they don’t see people who look like them already in those careers, or they’re not shown examples of career opportunities waiting for them at the end of their school journey.”
SPP’s goal was to alter that dynamic by supporting STEM-career pipeline choices at every grade level. The company will support a school supply drive benefiting one of the district’s most in-need middle schools, and will host “teach-the-teacher sessions” where the SPP staff will help educators connect classroom concepts and activities with real-world applications in the electric industry. SPP will also continue to provide paid college internships for students studying engineering and software development.
Superintendent Michael Poore expressed the school district’s appreciation for SPP’s commitment, saying that Brown and his team didn’t wait to be approached. “They asked what they could do to support our students,” he said in a statement. “Business, community and school partnerships are vital to the success of public education. We know that solutions for our future lie in having young people prepared to be the next scientists, engineers, innovators and community leaders, and thanks to the generous investment by SPP we will be able to provide those kinds of opportunities for our students.”
The partnership also drew applause from Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber. “SPP is helping shape the change they seek; not just for their own workforce, but for the Little Rock community as a whole,” he said in the release.
Brown said he hopes the commitment inspires other Arkansas entities to collaborate with STEM education from the early grades up. “The need we’re addressing exists beyond Little Rock,” he said. “We want to show that businesses can have a measurable effect on educational outcomes, and they can do so with relatively small investments of time, expertise and money in the right places.”