Schools continue to answer a challenge put forth years ago by Senator Royce West to develop and promote STEM programs throughout the DFW region.
As part of an answer to the challenge, the Best Southwest Partnership Region is sponsoring the first BSWP STEAM Showcase & Competition, Saturday, Feb. 10 at Technical State Technical College North Texas in Red Oak. The event runs from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
High schools in the region will compete to win $500 to $5,000, along with bragging rights as the BSWP STEAM champion.
Chad McCurdy, Education Committee Chairman for BSWP, proposed the idea for the competition before becoming the overall chair two years ago
“I really had no idea what that entailed, but I knew that the school districts were talking about STEM,” he said. “I also knew that we needed a way for our students to showcase their intellectual capabilities the same way they showcase their athletic skills.”
Highlighting Talent In The Southern Sector
McCurdy said the competition is also designed to help break the stigma that there is not enough talent in the Southern Sector to fill highly technical jobs.
“Over the last couple of years we have had more evidence presented that this is truly the case. Dr. Joe Seabrooks began working on a GIS analysis when he was chair of the Best Southwest three years ago. Once the study was completed we learned that there are over 100,000 people a day leaving the BSWP area to go work in the aerospace industry, automotive manufacturing, healthcare in the hospital district along I-35, etc.,” McCurdy said.
“We saw people driving as far away as North Plano from our region. This seemed to indicate to us that maybe employers didn’t understand our region and what we have to offer: less traffic, more readily available lnd, cheaper land, lower cost of living, and obviously a skilled workforce that could do these jobs. This was confirmation to myself and others that we had to dispel the myth about the capabilities of our workforce.”
Then, two years ago when he was chair, McCurdy organized the Regional Economic Development Summit to be held inside one of Hillwood Development’s new facilities that was still under development.
“Holding the event there was an accomplishment in itself. We couldn’t have pulled that off without the help of Hillwood Development, The Cedar Hill Economic Development Staff, and of course our Director Amanda Skinner,” he said.
The guest speaker for the event was Hill Perot and Janie Gavel from the governor’s office of Economic Development and Tourism was the moderator.
“The message that we walked away from the event with was simple – the single greatest challenge for business over the coming decade was going to be workforce,” he said. “Businesses were going to locate where the workforce is available, where the workforce is affordable, where the workforce is capable, or where it is trainable.
“Again, we seemed to have confirmation that we needed to take action to dispel the myth that the workforce in the Southern Dallas sector cannot fill highly technical positions.”
BSW STEAM SHOWCASE
McCurdy said this event holds significance for both the school districts and the students.
“First, we will have schools from across the 10 Best Southwest Partnership cities competing. The students will be able to showcase their abilities and compete the same way our football teams compete,” he said.
There will even be presented a championship belt that will bear the name of the winning school. The belt will travel from year-to-year across the region, each year being engraved with the winning school.
Also, schools pay nothing to enter the competition. It is normally expensive for school districts to enter robotics competitions, spending thousands of dollars to build the robots and thousands more to register for competition.
Further, each school entering a team in the robotics portion gets a free robot kit.
“Thanks in large part to a donation from Community Foundations of Texas we are going to be able to accomplish this,”McCurdy said. “Our hope is that the school districts will get together and adopt a common robotics platform in the future. In the meantime, thanks to the assistance of Harry Kennedy at HAKing Innovation, we have a plan to allow them to compete now.
“Harry has helped a number of schools and districts design/host STEAM competitions. In fact he will be hosting his own competition in May.”
The thousands of dollars in prizes will go toward helping school districts fund their STEAM programs. McCurdy said they are still seeking sponsors, but a number of corporations and EDC’s from the region are pledging help.
“Obviously, the more sponsorships we have the bigger the prizes we can present,” he said. “This all translates into more funding for STEAM programs in our region. But we also want to see the districts invest in their STEAM programs, and as the competition grows we expect to see increased participation from all ISD’s.”
McCurdy said the BSWP has vacillated on whether they should only focus on high schools, or also include middle schools and elementary schools as part of the competition.
“We want to see all tiers eventually be able to compete, but we must also be cognizant of the fact that this is a first year event, and we are also learning,” he said. “In the end, some of the districts have requested that they be allowed to field participants from different tiers to fill their teams. Our goal here is to feature the best the region has to offer, and STEAM is an area where a gifted and talented student in elementary might just be able to compete against students at the high school level.
“Our intent though to make this an annual competition. It is possible it could grow into additional competitions.”
As the planning for the event began, McCurdy said they became aware of a number of challenges. First, it’s not going to be cheap. Second, every school district has different programs in their STEAM curriculum. Third, some of the districts have STEAM at certain grade levels but have not expanded it to all grade levels. Fourth, even when districts have similar programs like robotics they might use different platforms making it difficult to compete. For example one district might use VEX robotics and another district might use First Robotics.
STEAM Competition CATEGORIES
Categories in which schools will compete include:
- 3D design
- Drone Racing
“And, thanks to Danny Martin at Esposure, we will have an Esports competition,” McCurdy said. “Danny has been doing amazing work with Region 10 to introduce Esports to all school districts. He is also working with numerous universities to launch programs at (NCAA) D1 schools. Players in the NBA2K League can make $60,000 per year as a professional gamer.”
The program is open to the public if they want to come observe what each district is doing in STEAM,” McCurdy said. Specifically, for the students, there are a few incentives just for them.
“First, we will have some fabulous door prizes they could win just for participating, including at least one PS5. Second, the Best Southwest Partnership, through the mayors in our various cities, awards scholarships each year to students from each city.
“Obviously, they’ll bring special attention to the students in the competition from each of their respective cities.”
Pursuing Education & Careers in STEAM Fields
This competition is designed to encourage students to pursue education and careers in STEAM fields.
“We recently had a presentation from Texas Instruments discussing the possibility of students becoming a certified technician in one of their semi-conductor fabs (plants). Now, they’re not building in our region yet, but it’s not too late for them to see the error of their ways,” McCurdy said with a chuckle. “Anyway, to be a technician requires a certification, not a degree. As a first-year technician they could earn $80,000.
“I would say that’s a pretty significant incentive.”
McCurdy said tribute will be paid to those who have helped blaze the trail for STEAM education programs, including a STEAM Hall of Fame. As one of the proponents of education and a staunch advocate for the 2023 Chips Act, former Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson will be the first inductee into that Hall of Fame.
“There is one more myth that we hope to challenge through this competition, and that is the ability of our public schools to provide a quality education,” he said. “Our schools are berated and discounted on a regular basis. We think it’s time they had the opportunity to show how they can really perform if given a fair opportunity. These students are smart. The teachers are both competent and committed.”