More students need to know about careers in science and engineering, and Hall County teacher Kathy Mellette plans to help.
Mellette, a North Hall Middle School teacher, attended the Siemens STEM Institute with 50 teachers across the nation before classes started in August, and she's bringing her seminar notes and contacts back to the classroom.
"It was life-changing and eye-opening," she said. "It's amazing to see what's being done around the country."
The institute hosted its first educators' conference Aug. 1-6 to help teachers foster student achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In her lengthy application, Mellette emphasized the importance of minorities and females growing in these fields.
"I always use Siemens STEM resources and found the application, never thinking I had a chance," she said.
"In a video I produced and sent in, I said all kids, especially minorities and females, need to be pushed and given the opportunities. I also said we need to focus on these STEM subjects early on so kids aren't so scared by them."
Mellette spent the week working with government officials, leading scientists and STEM educational leaders in Washington, D.C. She was unsettled by the statistics connected to STEM education in the U.S. - especially that the nation didn't make the top 20 for science and math education among developed countries.
"We're not in the top and obviously we need to be," she said. "Every speaker kept saying not only do we need to be focusing on our top kids, but we need a trained workforce for technical and skilled jobs, too. Especially in our age, with so many things done with computers, we need a technically trained workforce, and they're very scared that we're not prepared for that."
As co-coordinator of the Hall County School's Honors Mentorship Program, which places juniors and seniors with internships in the community, Mellette wants to connect students with STEM resources.
"Going to the National Institute of Health was huge for me. I never dreamed I'd be able to go behind the scenes," she said.
"We talked with a doctor working on research with the new HIV drug, and it was just very interesting. I learned about NIH resources and hope I can start feeding my ideas to the high school students."
During the seminars, Mellette coordinated with teachers from a school in Texas and a school in Minnesota to conduct class projects on their local lakes.
Mellette's directed studies eighth-grade elective class will study Lake Lanier, testing the pH levels and temperature changes.
"We're three states with three lakes in different parts of the country, but we're ultimately on the same continental divide," she said.
"We thought collaborative projects with the schools would help foster more understanding and interest in why our areas are the way they are."
The students will create digital projects to talk about the history of their lakes and then present possible environmental problems that should be addressed.
"They can then give each other ideas from school to school to help with the environment or the publicity about their local resource," Mellette said.
"The biggest thing is for them to understand the relationship with everything, weaving the strands together. Testing pH is more than a number. I can see us doing graphing and all kinds of projects."
As Mellette moves forward with STEM initiatives in Hall County Schools, she's excited about what they're doing so far.
"I was very impressed with how innovative Hall County Schools are with the focus on technology, getting students geared for the 21st century world," she said.
"In Hall County, a teacher who is motivated to do innovative teaching can do it. I found that at other schools, teachers are restricted. It's rewarding to know we're up there, and it's exciting to keep pushing our kids."