OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Oak Ridge cleanup contractor UCOR is awarding $30,000 in grants for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) projects to benefit 30 schools across a nine-county region.
Since 2012, UCOR has given more than $230,000 in grants to local schools to support STEM education and help develop the next-generation workforce.
This year, the contractor awarded grants for 40 projects with titles such as “The Science Behind a Coffee Shop,” “Ozobots,” “Develop Computational Thinking,” and “Elementary Coding and Robotics.”
“This program is a highlight every year,” said Jay Mullis, manager of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. “We appreciate UCOR’s continued focus in this area, which is giving teachers resources to offer students interesting STEM projects that build their interest in these fields.”
Award recipient Donna Tompkins, a fourth grade science teacher at Oneida Elementary School in Oneida, Tennessee, has an after-school STEM club for fourth and fifth grade students. In the “May the Force be With You” project, her students will build and modify sail cars for the best speed and distance by experimenting with different types of sails and wheels. Sail cars often work like a sailboat, operated from a sitting or lying position and steered by pedals or hand levers.
“I want to get my students interested in STEM at an early age and to learn how to design, build, test, and improve their designs,” Tompkins said. “This building, testing, and design modifying will take place through teamwork, a skill I feel is very valuable for success in the real world.”
Sarah Maness, a special education teacher at Horace Maynard Middle School, in Maynardville, Tennessee, said the grant will help her provide sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students access to STEM materials that fit their needs and abilities.
“My goal is to get them interested in new opportunities, focus on teamwork, and experience open-ended exploration,” Maness said. “Our STEM for ALL program will create the space with the appropriate materials to allow everyone to explore STEM and open their eyes to future endeavors.”
UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter said the STEM grants program supports the company’s workforce development program and is an important way to support the communities in which UCOR employees live and work.
A chemical engineer, Rueter noted that UCOR’s work to turn decades-old environmental hazards into reusable land requires a workforce with a large number of STEM professionals. UCOR’s workforce includes engineers, industrial hygienists, nurses, project managers, chemical operators, and electricians.
“We need workers from multiple disciplines to maintain the kind of trained, skilled workforce needed to successfully advance EM’s charge to complete environmental cleanup across the Oak Ridge Reservation,” Rueter said.