September 5, 2017

Introducing the Rural Spark Project: A chance for rural students to have bright futures in STEM

For students growing up in rural communities, access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs can be limited. Poor retention of teachers and lack of technology are just two factors that often times leave rural schools unable to provide the same type of STEM education that students in urban or suburban districts receive.

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To address this issue, Astellas USA Foundation launched the Rural Spark Project through a multi-year grant with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) over the next three years. The Rural Spark Project provides turnkey programming to these rural audiences to help ensure their success, including teacher training and execution tools such as technology and new curriculum.

The Rural Spark Project is piloting funding support to 26 rural schools in four Illinois school districts, with a plan to expand nationally. The grant to PLTW will provide rural Illinois students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning programs, while fueling their imaginations to pursue successful careers in STEM.

“We recognized rural schools lacked the tools they need to advance STEM education with our next generation. We launched the Rural Spark Project to give future scientists, mathematicians and coders the chance to explore the endless possibilities of STEM,” said Moyra Knight, Astellas USA Foundation president. “Through our pilot program, students in 26 Illinois schools will have the same opportunity as their urban and suburban peers to grow and advance their future careers.”

Encouraging students to pursue career options in STEM is more important now than ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80 percent of all jobs for the future generation will require skills gained in science and mathematics courses, and average STEM wages are 71 percent higher than the national average for all wages. However, findings from the ACT’s annual STEM report show few students are actually prepared to earn these degrees. According to “The Condition of STEM 2016”, only 26 percent of high school graduates who took the test and expressed interested in STEM careers received passing scores. The findings indicate students are not receiving the background they need to continue following their passion.

“Project Lead The Way is proud to partner with the Astellas USA Foundation to help ensure that students and teachers in Illinois’ rural communities have the same access to high-quality STEM education as their urban and suburban peers,” said PLTW President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Vince Bertram. “All students, regardless of race, gender, geography and socio-economic status, need a strong foundation in science and technology. With Astellas USA Foundation’s support, we will help ensure that all students have the in-demand knowledge and skills they need to thrive in our rapidly evolving world.”

This also makes our specific focus on rural communities crucial, as the Rural School and Community Trust Policy Program reports that in 2010-2011, over 20% of U.S. public school students attended rural schools.

By receiving the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in STEM industries, students will be able to counteract the economic challenges that rural families face, including low wages, declining industry and shrinking populations. That’s why Astellas USA Foundation is committed to the Rural Spark Project and addressing educational challenges that these rural communities face. The curriculum provided to schools applies real-world learning opportunities to empower and inspire greater interest in these fields, showing students the important connection between classroom education and career goals.

By providing funding to PLTW to expand access to high-quality curriculum and teacher training, underserved rural community students will have the chance to pursue jobs and higher education in these fields, securing a more sustainable future for us all.