EAGLE CORNER: Students use problem-solving skills to tackle real corporate challenges

By BRIAN GARMAN, guest columnist

When Superintendent Emily Tracy asked me to write an article for The Democrat about Brown County Middle School, I was thrilled.

In many school corporations, the middle school can easily get overlooked because of its position between the elementary and high school. This article presented a great opportunity for me to share with the community what wonderful work occurs daily at BCMS.

As a school, we have spent the past nine years focused on the implementation and development of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and are proud to be an Indiana Department of Education STEM certified school. Employment in the STEM field is expected to grow 8% by 2029, resulting in an estimated 797,800 new jobs across the nation. We want our students to be prepared to access those employment opportunities.

With that said, I would like to make it clear that the STEM model for teaching and learning is not exclusive to science, technology, engineering and math. We believe that the STEM model should transcend all disciplines of learning because it embraces and promotes the very core of teaching excellence: thinking, problem solving, inquiry, creativity and collaboration. These are core values that should be present in all areas of our curriculum and in every classroom at BCMS.

For the past nine years, BCMS has embraced Project Lead the Way as the core of our STEM curriculum. In addition to the traditional science and math curriculum, our students have the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of STEM courses at BCMS, such as engineering, automation and robotics, biomedical, computer science, STEM Lab and music technology. BCMS also offers numerous after-school STEM opportunities for students such as Robotics Club, HAM Radio Club and Science Olympiad.

Strong corporate partnerships is one of the core tenets of the IDOE STEM certification rubric. BCMS has been blessed with some great corporate partners who support us in so many different ways. I would like to recognize Cummins, Faurecia, LHP Engineering, Cook Medical, Purdue Polytechnic, Designscape and Columbus Regional Hospital for all of their support.

We have also been blessed with amazing individuals who have supported us with so many different initiatives over the past nine years: Mark Stidham, Shawn Kleinpeter, Derek Roberts, and Roy Pace from Faurecia; Dave Redding, Sean Milloy, Dan Denison, Evan Raisor and Dan Raisor from Cummins; Bryan Rushton from LHP Engineering; Matt Ferrell from Purdue Polytechnic; John Tiernon from Maya HTT; Bryan Gabriel from Mainstream Fiber Networks; Liz Eaton and Peggy Overmyer from Cook Medical; and Gabe Glusenkamp from Designscape.

One example of their incredible commitment to BCMS occurs each spring when we engage with our partners for our annual Corporate Problem Solving Challenge. This spring, we are grateful to be partnering with Cummins, Faurecia, LHP Engineering, Purdue Polytechnic and Maya HTT. The Corporate Problem Solving Challenge is a “real world” simulation for all of our eighth-grade students.

Students are strategically placed in problem solving teams of three to five and are assigned problems according to student interest. In this simulation, our students have been employed by the corporations to solve a specific problem. Our corporate partners, with input from teachers and school leaders, design and present authentic problems to the teams of students, who then engage over a five to six week period to create solutions that are presented to the corporate partners at the conclusion of the project.

Each corporation provides company representatives who mentor the students throughout the process. Those individuals communicate weekly with their groups in person, through Zoom or email. This year’s problems include designing brackets for sensors on a Cummins diesel engine, designing a new, more versatile case for HAM radios, designing a new antennae system for amateur radio operators, redesigning a conference room to accommodate the new world of remote work and communication, creating a new board game with 3D printed pieces that are able to launch projectiles, combining two sensors to create a marketable product and a project involving precision measuring with 3D printing.

I am always amazed at what our students create. It is so easy to underestimate their abilities at this age, but they are truly capable of high level thinking and problem solving when given these unique opportunities. I am also amazed each year at the dedication of the individuals who participate in these projects and all the other STEM events and initiatives we host each school year. This is such a rare and unique learning experience for our students. We hope that this will not only inspire and prepare our students to pursue some of the STEM careers available right here in our local community, but also teach them many valuable career skills such as communication, collaboration, organization, adaptability, research and leadership.

As I leave Brown County Middle School, I am proud of the progress that we have made in the last nine years in the area of STEM education. I know that my replacement, Mr. Gavin Steele, shares my commitment to STEM and will only expand the great opportunities that are already in place.

I can’t wait to see what the next nine years will bring.

Brian Garman is the principal of Brown County Middle School. He can be reached at [email protected]