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Kathleen Schofield is Program Director at the STEM2 Hub in Northeast Florida and was recently selected to participate in the national LEAD STEM program.

What drew you to work in the STEM education field?

I was drawn to the STEM field (science, technology, engineering, math) because STEM touches just about every aspect of the world we live in. I saw that school looked like it did when I was a student, still with a lot of lecture and memorization happening in our classrooms. I wanted to help change that. I saw a need to address root causes of lack of achievement in mathematics, a discipline where the U.S. is not leading. I believe that kids who are not strong in math will be shut out of the world of the future. Add to that a lack of equity, especially for girls – I knew that I needed to help influence this area.

What are you working on for the future for the STEM2 Hub?   

As a director with the STEM2 Hub, every day I meet incredibly talented people who share my same passion for empowering the next generation.  So many people are doing great work, but in many cases, everyone in the region does not necessarily know what others are doing.  I am developing an asset map outlining work that is being done all around our region, and communicating that work.

With assistance from TIES, we hosted two design studio meetings with groups of about 50 people from our community to identify needs and gaps and set priorities. From that, leaders self-identified to form our new Lead Council, a cross-sector partnership led by the president of our local science museum. Included on the team are leaders from the Jacksonville Chamber, along with corporate members, the Girl Scouts, two school districts, two universities, and a local hospital.

The Lead Council’s first priorities include coordination of grants, and development of a strong District/College Representatives Group for collaboration between the colleges and K12 school districts.

How is the STEM2 Hub benefitting from its involvement in STEM Ecosystems?

The professional learning that we are experiencing is a game changer.  Through the Ecosystem, we have the support of TIES, which has helped us organize a structure around our Ecosystem and put frameworks in place to communicate and operate.

We’ve gotten great ideas from the Ecosystem’s Community of Practice. For instance, at a breakout session put on by the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative, we learned about some incredible programs, including the Bicycle Club, where children learn math/physicals while reverse-engineering a bicycle. The group shared the curriculum with us, we found grant funding, and we are now rolling out that program in a rural county in Florida! How powerful it is to be able to learn and share with others around the country!

What’s the most fun and/or rewarding part of your job?

When I was the science specialist in my district, I attended a conference where there was a breakout session with EV3 robots. After only 15 minutes, I was hooked! I knew that I had to find a way to bring robotics back to my school district. I came back and worked with a colleague to write some grants, and over a five-year period, we were awarded almost $15 million in competitive funding.  We did so much with those dollars! We started a world-class STEM program, and now all 41 of the schools in the district have a robotics program. We did incredible amounts of professional development that has begun to shift teacher practice. We have addressed issues in elementary teacher math content knowledge (leading to a regional relationship with Code.org).  People often think that change is impossible, and the efforts of an individual or a small group can’t really make a difference. But when I reflect on what we accomplished and the thousands of students and teachers that have been touched by this work, it actually makes me well up with tears to know that I played a part in starting all of this.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

My favorite teacher was a high school history teacher named Ms. Barbara Godbold. She was larger than life! Energetic, even a little crazy. She would often stand on top of her desk, dressed in character for whomever was a key contributor to the period we were studying at the time. She engaged us in projects and made us think. In her class, we talked with and learned from everyone in the room. She made us own our learning. She was creative and inspiring!

I have also had several mentors over the course of my career. Three of my professors at the University of North Florida, Jace Hargis, Science Education; Cathy Cavanaugh, Technology Integration; and Jan Bosnick, Math Methods. Each of them taught me to look at the world differently, and have helped to shape me into the person I am today. I have learned that conceptual understanding and real-world, problem-based learning that is connected to something meaningful is a powerful way to inspire learning. I also learned from them to accept nothing but the best from myself and from others – it is okay to push and be pushed. Donna Wethington from Clay County School District taught me about the critical need to weave social/emotional learning into everything we do, and she taught me everything I know about grant writing. Diane Kornegay, now superintendent of Lake County Schools in Florida, taught me that sometimes you just have to throw the rule-book out the window and turn a vision into a reality. Currently, Gary Chartrand is helping me grow in another area, policy and development, and he is helping me see the world through the eyes of the other side of the education pipeline.  There are so many others that have helped me grow personally and professionally, and I am thankful and grateful to each of them.

To learn more, listen to an interview on WJCT News with Kathleen Schofield, or visit the website for the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub.