Sowing Seeds of STEM Skills in Western Nebraska
By David Steel, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Samsung Electronics America
Last month I had the opportunity to visit Gering, Nebraska in the state’s Western Panhandle. Population: just over 8,000.
I first learned about this small Midwestern town in 2016, when a teacher and small group of students from Gering High School submitted their plans for a drone-powered, precision crop sprayer to the annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which asks students in 6th – 12th grades to solve a challenge in their community using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
My colleagues and I immediately knew Justin Reinmuth and his students were onto something big. What we didn’t know at the time is Justin and his team of seven had planted a seed in the community that would grow legions of STEM-enthusiastic students, eyeing career paths in engineering, software development and the medical sciences. Their journey also created something less tangible and more lasting – the kind of goodwill and positive impact that can transform a community from within.
In the past three years, Gering High School has become the winningest school – out of 20,000 entries — in the decade-old Solve for Tomorrow competition. From their grand-prize-winning idea three years ago to building a water filter for washing machines to prevent microplastics from entering water sources in 2018 and their upgraded automatic wheelchair innovation in 2019, Gering High School students have virtually become a think tank for innovation and built a world-class STEM curriculum for future generations in the process.
The school now offers a variety of STEM classes to more than 140 students interested in learning these critical skills, became the first class-B school in Nebraska to offer a complete STEM career pathway and was awarded a $103,000 grant by the Nebraska governor for implementing a STEM curriculum in the Jr. High School. Just last year they also finished in the top 5 for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science.
During my visit, Justin told me perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of all the school’s accomplishments around STEM education in recent years is a STEM scholarship fund established in partnership with the University of Nebraska, using some of the Solve for Tomorrow money awarded in 2017.
But look past the recognition, the $220,000 in Samsung technology and classroom materials and the top-notch curriculum, and you will also see the enthusiastic support, throughout the community, for Justin’s and his colleagues’ efforts to provide what superintendent Bob Hastings calls “big opportunity” for the students in Gering Public Schools. Administrators, Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman, U.S. Congressman Adrian Smith (also a Gering High School alumnus) and many more members of the community were on hand during my visit to join a rally in celebration of the students’ accomplishments in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow program.
My visit to Gering showed me first-hand that what we set out to do 10 years ago with the simple idea that fuels success in Solve for Tomorrow — motivating students to apply STEM skills to tackle real problems in their local communities — has helped make learning come alive for so many through teamwork, collaboration, structuring projects, civic engagement and sparking critical thinking.
At Samsung, we can only be as successful as the communities around us. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously. Through our products and our commitment to corporate citizenship and community outreach, we’re proud and humbled to play even one small part in enabling education of future generations in Gering, Nebraska and beyond.