Sarah Mallon, an East Garner Middle School teacher, played with a tube of dark, gooey fluid, applying a magnet to it and then watching it go from liquid to solid.
Mallon and other Wake County teachers got a chance to act like students Tuesday by watching engineers at LORD Corporation demonstrate a number of their products, including their magneto-rheological fluid used in car suspension systems, among other things.
The teachers will get their own samples of fluid to replicate the exercise for their students.
“Overall, it was a really valuable experience for the teachers to see a real world business,” said Mallon, an eighth grade science teacher and SummerSTEM participant. “It’s something that we can take back to our students, because that’s ultimately our goal, to train students to be successful.”
Wake County middle and high school teachers and WakeEd Partnership, a nonprofit education advocacy and improvement group, kicked off the second annual SummerSTEM program at LORD Corporation headquarters in Cary on Tuesday. Next week, a group of elementary school teachers will go through the program.
The program seeks to increase educators’ knowledge of the skills required for success in science, technology, engineering and math careers. Educators will bring their experiences back to the classroom and incorporate them into their curriculum.
Through the program, educators interact with corporate leaders in STEM fields, including National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, SAS Institute and LORD Corporation. They also work with Wake Technical Community College to see the STEM instruction that their students will experience in college, and they receive professional development training in project-based learning.
At LORD, a global technology and manufacturing company, the group met with the company’s leadership to discuss what they’re looking for in employees and what teachers can do to help students for future professional development.
“Today is all about sharing what we do as an industry, the needs we have, the way we work together, the way we solve problems, and maybe they can take some of those relevant experiences back into their classrooms and use that to build their curriculum, ” said Doug Lorenz, president of the Automotive, Industrial and Electronic assembly group at LORD.
Alyson Davis, LORD’s university relations and STEM manager, said the company looks for skills like innovation, critical thinking and communication.
“The difference-maker is those soft skills,” Davis said.
Other LORD executives agreed, highlighting the importance of communication skills in highly technical positions.
“We ask people to present during the interview process,” said Seth Carruthers, LORD’s director of chemical technology.
Davis explained how STEM employees at LORD often are trained in multiple fields. Students may think a mechanical engineer will spend their whole career doing the same thing. But Davis said engineers hold roles across the corporation, including in human resources and finance positions.
Teachers can inspire students through projects and connecting them with those in technical and science industries, Davis said.
Teachers toured some of the company’s facilities for technical demonstrations, including the magneto-rheological fluid and another involving a system that keeps helicopters flying.
“Their minds are spinning because they are seeing all of the curricular connections,” said Teresa Pierrie, WakeEd Director of Programs.
Mallon said meeting with LORD employees and other companies will help teachers better communicate the importance of their classes to the students.
“It gives them more credibility with their students,” she said. “It’s good to be able to step out of our normal role.”
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