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DOD STEM Ambassador Spotlight – Kirsten Manning

The DoD STEM Ambassador Program is a cohort of educators who partner with the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) to advance STEM outreach throughout the school year. DOD STEM Ambassadors are expected to work with students who are underrepresented in STEM and/or military connected.

The National Math + Science Initiative has selected Kirsten Manning as our 2021-2022 NMSI STEM Ambassador award winner. Kirsten is a teacher at Woodside High School, Newport News City Public Schools District, VA. The following is a Q&A with Kirsten on the importance of STEM education, as well as the projects she’s working on.
Q: Why is STEM education so important to you?

Kirsten: The global economy of the 21st century is a fast-paced, technology enhanced environment requiring unique skills that are developed through firsthand, minds-on learning. Educating students for these challenges requires an integration of knowledge across disciplines which will instill in students a deep understanding of concepts. STEM education can capture students' interest in learning with engagement in science and engineering practices while developing necessary foundational knowledge. STEM education focuses on developing students' understanding of core ideas and the crosscutting concepts that connect them. Through this, students are given opportunities to understand the real-world application of science, engineering, and mathematics.

Q: Why is increasing diversity in STEM fields a critical issue?

Kirsten: Learning how to collaborate among diverse teams of problem solvers is a necessary skill in today's workforce. Industry leaders rely on team of experts from different fields and backgrounds to solve complex problems. It is this diversity of thought and a collaborative environment that foster innovation and groundbreaking ideas. By developing an atmosphere of inclusion and respect for all, both the commonalities and differences of all individuals can be valued, appreciated and seen as strengths. The inherent differences as well as the differing styles, ideas, and organizational contributions of each person drives innovation, creativity and engagement.
Q: You’ve been developing a new science elective at Woodside High School designed to attract students who need help in accessing opportunities in STEM and unlocking their potential. Please share how this course came to be.

Kirsten: The course includes community involvement in which students find a problem within the community that requires an engineering solution and then they collaborate with community partners to help design a solution to the problem. Industry partners from the local community are brought in to speak to the students and share their stories of how they became involved in STEM careers. This
 is our pilot year for it. It’s taken about five years ago from concept to this point. We’ve also just received a grant to fund curriculum development.

Q: From your perspective, what are the necessary components to building a strong STEM ecosystem in schools.

Kirsten: There's got to be a connected interest between academic partners, local business leaders and the community. That interest should include professional development for the teachers with activities in and outside of the school. Also, making students aware of what career opportunities are available to them in the local community. That’s what’s going to develop our workforce in the local area.

Q: You’ve been teaching for 21 years and have had many opportunities to connect with students. Is there a particular STEM success story that sticks out in your mind?

Kirsten: I've had success stories where the students become really excited about that the information and they go on and pursue STEM careers. One of my favorites stories involves a young lady who came to me at the beginning of the school year who said, ‘I'm not good at math or science, but I want to go to college’.
I worked with her throughout the year. She went on to become an architect. She wrote me a beautiful letter when she graduated from college and she said, ‘You know, I made A’s and B’s in university-level Physics. I never thought that would have been possible.’ That touched me quite a bit, you know, to see that she's hard working and went on to become very successful.
Learn more about NMSI’s work to advance STEM education through the Military Families Mission.