MANCHESTER — It’s never too early.
This includes reaching out to kids in kindergarten through second grade to create the earliest of worker pipelines.
“That’s when they’re deciding what to be when they grow up,” said Barbara Hopkins, who’s working on one of several pilot projects that the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute/BioFabUSA is funding.
Hopkins, as part of the effort by the University of New Hampshire’s Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education, is producing “unit lessons” for teachers to use as soon as this fall to get kids interested in the life sciences and eventually pursuing a career.
The aim is to get kids from K-12 involved — and become a model for other states.
ARMI/BioFabUSA, which inventor Dean Kamen spearheaded, has green-lighted several projects to get students interested in the life sciences and snare the workers of tomorrow.
“It’s all about looking at different learning channels,” said Mike Decelle, chief workforce officer for ARMI and dean of UNH Manchester. “If successful, can this then be a national initiative?”
Many companies in New Hampshire and other states are reaching into high schools and middle schools to introduce their industries to students and attract some that will undertake internships and perhaps full-time employment.
Another project involves partnering with the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains to develop a new biofabrication curriculum and a patch for girls age 5 to 17.
“We’re going to do some really good programs that we already know are tested … and they’re going to be more interested in STEM as a result of them,” Patricia Casey, the Girl Scouts director of advancement, told people attending the ARMI/BioFabUSA fall summit in the Millyard last week.
She said the dedicated Girl Scout patch probably won’t be available until next year.
A study showed 74 percent of Girl Scouts surveyed were interested in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — but only 13 percent of them said a career in STEM was their first choice, Casey said.
In another project, the SEE Science Center in Manchester used a tool kit from ARMI that let kids take a fake heart, made from a gelatinous substance, and use an eye-dropper to pretend they were adding or subtracting cells from the fake heart, which turned red or white depending on what they were doing.
“Kids feel like they’re doing some real science here,” said Peter Gustafson, the center’s operations director.
SEE also will develop a field trip experience.
The goal is to offer programs that can be a model for other museums, Decelle said.
ARMI/BioFabUSA is providing roughly between $100,000 and $200,000 for each project, according to Decelle.
“Still doing product development,” he said. “Everything starts small and then we we think: Do we scale it?”
Hopkins said lesson plans for teachers will feature videos of scientists and engineers talking about why they are in their industry and what led them there.
“Stories warm people’s hearts,” she said after her talk. “People remember the stories.”
Tapping kids’ wonderment is a chief goal.
“How do you grow curiosity rather than shut it down,” Hopkins said. “If we’re not challenging our kids in the classroom, they’re going to challenge themselves outside of the school and that’s where they get in trouble if we’re not challenging them in the classrooms.”
Another project involves CAST, a nonprofit based in Wakefield, Mass., that will develop student interest in science.
CAST has partnered with two career & technical education schools in Nashua and at the Manchester School of Technology.
“Our goal is really to make sure that more people can engage in the education training, work opportunities that allow them to be productive members of the workforce of today, the workforce of tomorrow,” said Sam Johnston, director of postsecondary education and workforce development at CAST.
One effort is working on co-designing a mobile app allowing users to explore biofabrication, a process of producing living and non-living biological products from raw materials, such as living cells.
Decelle said he hopes the CAST work will serve as a “pipeline to higher ed, a pipeline to industry.”
This problem isn’t New Hampshire’s alone.
In Arkansas, for example, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service with public- and private-sector partners teamed up to create a strategic planning and development program called Breakthrough Solutions. It produced a 2017 report, “Creating an Education & Workforce Pipeline for Your Community/Region.”
“For education and workforce development to be effective, it requires various stakeholders to communicate with each other about the needs, opportunities and issues facing the workforce and employers in your community,” the report said. “This may require forming network hubs – organizations, coalitions or alliances – in which stakeholders meet on a regular basis to share information and discuss issues.”
The report included a flow chart titled “talent pipeline with data” with grades kindergarten through sixth listed on one square.
“A major employer recently stated that they are not just interested in the current workforce in a particular community; they want to know about the pipeline – the education and workforce development system that will produce an effective workforce for years to come,” the report read.