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Montgomery County Councilmembers sent a letter Nov. 21 to officials at Montgomery College and the Universities of Shady Grove asking them to help set up a STEM academy for high school students of all backgrounds. (Courtesy Photo)

SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County Councilmembers hope to establish a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academy on the campuses of Montgomery College that would be open to county students of all backgrounds.

Councilmembers sent a letter Nov. 21 to officials at Montgomery College and the Universities of Shady Grove asking them to help set up an academy for high school students.

“The goal for this new educational hub should be to help fill an opportunity gap. In contrast to highly selective STEM-focused schools that target students who are already identified as gifted and talented in STEM, an MCPS STEM Academy could aim to develop new sources of STEM talent, particularly among underrepresented students,” the council stated in its letter.

The letter was sent to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard and Universities of Shady Grove (USG) Executive Director Stewart Edelstein.

The initiative is being spearheaded by Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Craig Rice and Gabe Albornoz.

The proposed idea is to house STEM academies at Montgomery County’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring and Germantown campuses while taking advantage of the many programs the college has to offer.

In its letter, the council called the academy “a very exciting concept that would create a learning continuum from early ages all the way through high school and early college enrollment, including internship and apprenticeship experiences in the workplace.”

The schools involved already work together, along with the KID Museum in Bethesda, on STEM activities.

The council pointed to the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus’ “marvelous performing arts space, a health sciences program, a nursing program, a college of art and design, a math lab, and coming in 2022, a brand new 130,000 square foot STEM lab building.”

It would be great, the councilmembers wrote, if the new building had “room to integrate a high school academy.”

The council would like to see a STEM academy set up using the P-Tech model, also known as Pathways in Technology Early College High School. This way, students would learn about career paths and see what is available in the community.

Sanjay Rai, senior vice president for academic affairs at Montgomery College, said the college intends to study the council’s proposal and make recommendations for the best way to open up STEM programs for high school students and possibly even a STEM academy.  Colleges and universities in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia graduated 12,500 students last year in STEM subjects, he noted.

“Obviously, tremendous opportunities are there” for students who pursue STEM careers, he said. The college will consider how to address the students’ needs and what would create “the best return on our investment,” he said.

He did not say how long the study would take, but did note, “We will take our time.”

Currently, Montgomery College runs a middle college at Northwest High School in Germantown. That program supports students who take college-level curriculum in engineering and general studies.

The college also has an early college program in which 11th and 12th graders takes classes on campus and finish with a high school and college associate’s degrees.

All these programs are geared “to preparing a diverse work force for knowledge-based jobs,” Rai said.

The council hoped the Universities of Shady Grove also would get involved, especially in connection with the many science-based companies located along the I-270 corridor.

The letter suggested the Universities at Shady Grove could either host a STEM academy or play a supportive role wherever the academy ends up.

Edelstein said USG is interested.

USG “is laser-focused on working collaboratively with MCPS and Montgomery College to continue developing successful pathways for students to earn career-launching degrees and to do so fully within Montgomery County. With the recent opening of our new Biomedical Sciences and Engineering building, we are bringing in new degree programs for our partner universities in an array of STEM fields,” he wrote.

“We are well-positioned to serve students and to develop a talent pipeline to support our region’s workforce and economic development needs,” Edelstein wrote.

Besides the colleges, the council pointed to several nearby federal agencies that might be great resources for the academies, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Other possible companies to partner with include those in the biotech, public health, media and nonprofit worlds, it was stated in the letter.

Students could attend lectures and programs or intern at these places, according to the letter.

Besides helping students’ futures, a STEM academy could assist MCPS by easing overcrowding in the classrooms.

“Several high schools that serve downtown Silver Spring area are very crowded, and this facility could help ease the pressure in those clusters,” it said in the letter.

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