It wasn’t always the case that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs were full or turned away students because there were many more applications than seats available.
But this is the case at the Northern Neck Technical Center Governor’s STEM Academy in Warsaw, VA. The academy offers 11 career and technical education programs to students from six participating high schools: Colonial Beach, Essex, Lancaster, Northumberland, Rappahannock, and Washington-Lee. In the last three years, enrollment in STEM programs has increased from 247 to 283 in 2013–14 and from 283 to 344 in 2014–15. That’s an increase—in just two years—of nearly 100 students. For many programs there’s a waiting list.
Recruiting potential students and advertising STEM programs to various stakeholders—including school district administrators, students, parents, local businesses, faculty, counselors, board members, and other school administration—is no easy task. Secondary school principals should consider these practical steps to increasing enrollment in STEM programs, whether as part of your school curriculum directly, or through an outside organization.
1. Install brochure racks in high schools.
The focus is to reach all current and future stakeholders and allow them to grab a brochure that contains specifics about each of the programs at our Technical Center and STEM Academy. Brochures include program, club, certification, and career information. Brochure racks were purchased for each participating school and placed in high-traffic areas where all students, businesses, faculty, and administration could see them. We also took a picture with the students in front of the center with their various class outfits, enlarged the picture, and mounted the picture in the schools.
2. Give presentations at school board meetings.
Giving a presentation at a monthly school board meeting is valuable in order to secure the support for funding and in order to educate local communities about STEM programs. Cater the presentation toward participating school boards, the administration, and the community in general. We schedule annual or biannual presentations for school board meetings in order to reach new school board members and to update the stakeholders on any changes and new programs.
3. Invite participating school counselors to speak at luncheons.
Set up working luncheons for school counselors and technical center administration to address topics such as recruiting, applications, school presentation timelines, and technical center visitation dates. Consider sponsoring counselor luncheons in the fall, where counselors of participating schools are invited to hear discussions from the administration. At the Governor’s STEM Academy, for example, counselors are served lunch by our culinary arts program students and offered a tour of the facility. Principals are also encouraged to attend.
4. Invite counselors to make lunchtime visits.
This designated time allows STEM teachers the opportunity to advertise the programs. At the Governor’s STEM Academy, members are divided up into small groups and visit participating schools during lunchtimes. The benefit: increased awareness of potential students before the application deadline. Teachers speak to students about the Northern Neck Technical Center STEM Academy, various programs, and expectations. The school administration takes the teachers’ students during this time and instructs them on “workplace readiness” lessons that include interviewing techniques and résumé writing. “Being able to speak to prospective students and give them an application has been valuable for my program. This is one of the reasons my first-year course is always full. It allows me to meet the students before they attend,” says instructor Michael Sisson, who teaches carpentry. “It’s nice to see them walk in the door the first day and know they want to be here.”
5. Target your audience through direct mail—not email.
Many school counselors have taken on the responsibilities of standardized testing coordinator, which can pull them away from speaking to their students and getting a real gauge on students’ careers. Directly mailing information allows the parents and students the opportunity to review the brochure that includes information on all of our programs. Our Technical Center and STEM Academy accepts juniors and seniors, so the target mailing group includes sophomores and juniors.
6. Make videos and other presentations to the target audience.
A video should be created that appeals to all stakeholders, including school boards, advisory committees, and students. The video should be short (about 10 minutes) but include information about the programs, as well as a short presentation by the administration that provides an overview along with salary ranges for potential careers. The Northern Neck Technical Center and STEM Academy created a video that is seven minutes and thirty seconds long for the 2014–15 and 2015–16 school years. Check it out by viewing it from our home page www.northernnecktech.org.
7. Improve the application process.
Create a detailed one-page application (front and back) that includes the information needed to evaluate the student. The application should have the student’s information, a counselor recommendation section, and a section where the student can express his or her desire for the program choice in the form of a short essay. Applications should then be screened by the instructor and administration through the use of a rubric.
8. Arrange to have potential students visit and experience the programs.
After the staff presents the video to participating schools, a visitation date for interested students is set. During the visit, students attend a sample of each program for 50 minutes. This allows the instructor to present students with the course overview, enables students to participate in a hands-on activity, and allows them to mingle with current students who are enrolled in the class. This allows the students to get an in-depth look into the program and facilities, and to meet the instructor.
9. Allow middle school students to tour the facility.
The timing of this visit is typically scheduled within the last month of school and is intended to expose the middle school students to future courses and careers. Our Technical Center and STEM Academy offers tours every spring to participating middle schools.
10. Participate in other schools’ open houses.
Send staffers from your STEM program to other high school open houses. This allows for visibility of your program on the grounds of the participating school. The staff members attend one open house, and they have rosters of accepted students. They are able to answer questions about the STEM Academy and are there to advertise the various programs to all stakeholders.
11. Update your website and use social media.
Be sure your website publicizes the most up-to-date program information and includes application information, advisory information, and more. Parents and students should be able to view each course syllabus and course competency lists, along with pictures and articles. Our website is www.northernnecktech.org. Social media provides a great way to reach various stakeholders. Create and maintain a Facebook page to which you can direct students, parents, advisory members, faculty, and businesses for information on the STEM program. Our Facebook page can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/northernnecktechfacebook.
12. Establish professional advisory panels.
Consider establishing a structured advisory committee or board of professionals from your community with biannual meetings for each program. During the meetings, be sure to take meeting minutes and outline a program improvement plan each year that details topics such as club activities, instruction, equipment, and certification testing.
Bernard S. Davis, EdD, is principal at Northern Neck Technical Center Governor’s STEM Academy for Agricultural and Maritime Studies in Warsaw, VA.