Bentonville business leaders, educators discuss technology collaboration

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 245 views 

Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education was the topic discussed by area business leaders and educators Friday (April 17) at the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce Business Matters breakfast event.

Although collaboration with the Scott Family Amazeum helped create new tech emphasis in Bentonville schools with support from corporate giant Wal-Mart, area leaders say there is still much work to be done in the area of STEM education.

Sam Dean, executive director of the Amazeum, was one of the three featured speakers at Friday’s event. Dean said the nature of the children’s discovery museum is pushing the boundaries of learning and innovation. He said the museum set to open July 15 is already collaborating with students in the region who are contributing to some of the exhibits. He said Tinkerfest held last year as a fundraiser for the Amazeum spawned a host of other innovation activities in Bentonville classrooms as well as New School in Fayetteville.

Dean said giving children a license to create, innovate, question and problem solve are key to developing and nurturing the higher level thinking skills required of STEM education.

Michael Poore, superintendent of Bentonville Schools, said the district is working with Tata Consultancy Group to follow a model now used in Kansas City schools that bring technology teachings and innovative opportunities to all students in the district. He said they have opted to follow this model as opposed to separating students in a charter school setting.

“We think all the students in the district can benefit from this model. Wal-Mart, NorthWest Arkansas Community College and University of Arkansas tech professionals have attended meetings with us in Kansas City. Wal-Mart is very supportive noting they provide internships when we get this program established,” Poore said.

He said NWACC and UA were impressed by the caliber of expertise they witnessed from students in this program.

“We know there are huge gaps in STEM education, we hear it all the time. We all can and should do more to fill this gap,” Poore said.

He said the business world reports that half of the applicants for entry level jobs lack STEM literacy.

“You can look on Wal-Mart’s website and any given day they have 1,000 or more unfilled tech-related jobs,” Poore said. “Phase one will look at STEM emphasis. Wal-Mart is onboard with internships, Ozark STEM is providing startup funding and NWACC is working with us to ensure high school students in the program get dual college credit,” Poore explained.

He said in years two and three the district plans to add logistics curriculum to the mix as the region can benefit from innovation and more personnel in this field.

Mike Graen, director for the Crossmark Collaboration Center in Bentonville, was the third speaker at the event. He shared how technology is enhancing the retail, supplier community from routine buyer meetings to joint business planning sessions. He said the center is used by retailers, non-profits and suppliers that regularly book space at the center.

“Crossmark built this facility to encourage more collaboration. It’s a community resource equipped with the latest technology to help businesses find solutions that take their companies further,” Graen said.

Graen, who moved to the region nearly 20 years ago with Proctor & Gamble, attributes much of the region’s growth to its ability to collaborate and push the boundaries of the status quo.