Louisiana STEM Summit attracts students, educators, state leaders

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Students, educators and state leaders joined forces Friday for four reasons: science, technology, engineering and math.

The first-annual Louisiana Stem Summit gave some adults a chance to discuss a growing demand for skills — and it gave some kids a chance to show what they know.

“There are so many different ways that STEM and robotics applies to real life,” said Alex Gabel, a junior at Lee Magnet High School in Baton Rouge.

Gabel recalls one example in particular. When part of a tree fell on his neighbor’s house after a storm last year, he recommended creating a pulley to remove the limb. He says he got the idea from a robotics class.

“We had the rest of the tree already up,” Gabel said. “If we had enough rope, we could pull it all the way off the other limbs.”

“STEM classes can teach you how to be a better person, a better member of your community,” he added.

Gov. John Bel Edwards hopes expanding STEM education can help Louisiana meet growing needs for technology and engineering jobs. Statewide studies alone show that workforce demand in STEM talent is poised to grow some 18 percent over the next decade.

“We don’t want our young people to think they need to leave Louisiana to get a good education, to find a good job,” he said.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), a former assets manager at Shell Oil, hopes STEM classes can inspire young women in particular to shatter what she calls a troubling perception.

“There’s this idea that it’s uncool to be smart if you’re a girl,” she said.

But Hewitt says with help from schools across Louisiana, she sees some progress. Gabel says the girls are part of the team, too.

“That’s what robotics is about,” he said. “It’s not about how good you are at it. It’s about how good the whole team is.”

The summit was sponsored by public and private groups alike, including Boeing, Dow Chemical and Louisiana’s office for economic development.

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