7th grade STEM 1

Hands-on learning opportunities are nothing new for high school students in Rutherford County. 

The school district has garnered a reputation for providing some of the best Career and Technical Education courses available for students in grades nine through 12.

But an event held recently at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Smyrna was aimed at a younger set of students — those in middle school. The event was intended to expose those students to career pathways that may lead to high-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly known as STEM. 

The Middle School STEM Summit, the first of its kind in Rutherford County or Middle Tennessee, was organized by Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee. 

“Dan Caldwell from Nissan approached me and said, ‘I’ve been to your high school STEM summit. Is there any way we could take that model and drill it down to middle school?’ ” said Kimberly Young with Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee. “We recognize the gap that is coming in the workforce and we need to create a love of STEM in younger students.”

Three Rutherford County middle schools — Rock Springs, Stewarts Creek and Smyrna— participated in the STEM summit with each school sending students on a different day.

Rock Springs Middle sent nearly all of their seventh-graders — more than 300 — to the summit for the daylong event. 

Students completed a rotation of activities, including the robotics automation lab, a math competition and chemistry activity. 

For one of the events, students had to compete in teams of four to build a structure out of raw spaghetti noodles and masking tape. The goal was to build the tallest, free-standing structure possible, that could hold a marshmallow on top. 

Several local companies participated in the event and provided personnel to work with the students. Those companies were Nissan, Turner Construction, HCA Healthcare, Calsonic-Kansei, Franklin Synergy, Pinnacle Bank, Farm Bureau Insurance, Hull Wealth Management, Middle Tennessee Electric Corp., SEC, Inc., Ragan-Smith Associates, EXP Realty, Deloitte, Keller Schroeder, Bridgestone, Valeo, Johnson+Bailey Architects.

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