North Country students help businesses solve problems through Authentic STEM

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 5:47 PM EST
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - Students are helping to solve real-world problems in New York’s North Country. And they get to work with businesses and with students from halfway around the world.

“Authentic STEM is the future of education and workforce development, and the future is here,” said Sylvie Nelson, the executive director of the North Country Workforce Partnership.

The North Country Workforce Partnership received a $335,000 grant to expand its authentic STEM pre-apprenticeship program.

“It came as a big surprise because originally, the Northern Border Regional Council had turned us down for our original grant,” Nelson said.

Authentic STEM is an education and workforce development program that connects students in the United States with students in Germany. Together, they work as a team to answer the challenges faced by local businesses.

“It gives them a global perspective, to see the world in a larger lens than you might get in the North Country alone,” said Jordan LeBlanc, the programming coordinator for the North Country Workforce Development Board.

The program is a joint partnership between the North Country Workforce Partnership, Champlain Valley Educational Services, the North Country Chamber of Commerce and the University of Siegen in Germany.

“It really allows the company to get to know their future workforce, and that’s very important because being in the workforce development business, we hear it from everywhere. We don’t have enough employees, they’re not trained. So this gives our local companies really the opportunity to see who’s coming, you know, down through the school districts,” Nelson said.

The program was piloted in February of this year in collaboration with Schluter Systems in Plattsburgh, which makes products for tile and stone installation. Schluter wasn’t able to meet demand due to an assembly line issue. The students fixed it with teamwork.

The North Country Workforce Partnership says the funding will be used to solve more problems like Schluter’s.

“Our students on both sides of the ocean were able to collaborate internationally, put together a solution, a proposal and then present it back to the company. And incidentally, the company is actually utilizing the solution to solve their problem,” said Michele Friedman, the director of career and technical education at CV-TEC.

Program leaders say authentic STEM changes the way kids think about career and technical training while demonstrating how innovation can improve both education and workforce systems in the North Country.

“So many students don’t even know the international companies that are based here. So programs like this allow them an insider track to become connected with the companies that are here in the area,” Friedman said.

The NCWP and its partners plan to facilitate a minimum of six cohorts during their next program, which is scheduled to start in February 2023.