From Seeds to a State Model: How a High School’s STEM Program Became a State Inspiration

Lori and Traci Tapani, sisters and Co‐Presidents of Wyoming Machine,  love volunteering for STEM‐related causes. They serve on regional, state and national boards. Locally, they’ve assisted Pine Technical College—from curriculum development to speaking at their commencement. The sisters also lend a hand to middle school STEM events and camps.

Now, an area school district they’ve assisted is a state leader in STEM programs.

In 2012 the Tapanis began plant tours for high school students including North Branch Area High School (NBAHS). “We want to plant seeds. We want our efforts to inspire a generation of students to pursue STEM careers, for their benefit, and for manufacturers,” says Lori.

Around that tour time, Coleman McDonough, NBAHS’ principal, instituted a prestigious Project Lead The Way STEM program. PLTW is a national organization which trains teachers and develops K‐12 STEM curriculums.‐programs.

Now in its third year, 65 of 940 NBAHS students are taking PLTW classes. Current classes include Principles of Engineering, Intro to Engineering Design, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing. In the fall of 2016 they will add the final course in the pathway, Engineering, Design and Development, the capstone course. In addition, many students are enrolled in the school’s more traditional industrial technology courses like welding, woods, and construction.

“Our efforts are to continually develop a comprehensive academic program to provide a ‘pathway’ to college and career for all of our students. When it comes to STEM, some students are ‘hands on’ and like the practical application of engineering, like ‘wrenching’ and more hands on learning. Others prefer developing the idea from inception and creating engineering designs. We offer classes for both, and students are excited about it,” says Coleman.

One strength of the PLTW program at NBAPS is that the curriculum is present at all levels K-12. In the middle school program, 7th and 8th grade students are required to take one trimester each year of PLTW curriculum and many more take advantage of PLTW elective courses. With that first group of middle school students entering the high school next fall, Coleman believes enrollment in PLTW classes will mushroom.

“I’m very excited about our PLTW/STEM programming and the impact that it can have both for our students and for the manufacturing businesses in our community; By providing our students with this level of curriculum and instruction, our students will graduate with skills they can apply immediately, and in our back yard. How cool is that?” says Coleman.

In the spring of 2014 Lori addressed middle school students at their 9th grade orientation. She spoke about PLTW, the benefit of the curriculum and how this type of program can provide students with a direction for a great career in the manufacturing industry.

In addition, Lori spoke specifically to our female students on the potential and rewards of manufacturing careers and the value of STEM classes. “STEM is for all students and we are trying hard to encourage our girls to give it a try.  Lori was instrumental in carrying that message forward,” Coleman adds.

PLTW‐certified schools must also incorporate a Partnership Team (advisory board) including business leaders and school district personnel. The business representatives offer insights, equipment and program recommendations and provide funding for scholarships and other program needs. Meanwhile, STEM students and school representatives’ present progress reports and activities to the Team.

Coleman’s ability to recruit exceptional business people has resulted in seven prominent business representatives on the team including those from Andersen Windows, Lori Tapani and other area leading manufacturers. Next year, North Branch’s PLTW Partnership Team businesses will provide $2,000 to fund scholarships for students who plan on attending a college or certificate program in the STEM or manufacturing fields, as well as $2,000 for other program needs in the classroom.

In fact, North Branch’s program has become a model for the state. The Partnership Team is so successful that Coleman and middle school principal, Todd Tetzlaff, were chosen to present at the Minnesota State PLTW conference last November on building an exceptional community Partnership Team. Lori joined the pair at their presentation to represent the Partnership and to answer questions.

“Lori is awesome,” says Coleman. “She personifies what it means to be a complete business leader.  She walks the talk when it comes to being active in the community. I am on the Pine Technical Community College Foundation Board with her and she has been an active member of the PLTW Partnership team since its inception. She took time away from her busy schedule to attend the State conference… not all business leaders would or could do that and I think that is what makes her special. She takes the time and her efforts are genuine. We feel blessed and grateful to have Lori on our team!”

Meanwhile, Lori and Traci are thrilled to watch the seeds they planted during their North Branch school tour contribute to a program that has become a state model.

Leave a Reply

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