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New Initiative from Joyce Plotkin: A 'Peace Corps' for Math, Science & Tech

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 20, 2009 07:40 AM

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A new non-profit initiative from Joyce Plotkin, the long-time leader of the Mass. Technology Leadership Council, will dispatch professionals from the worlds of science, engineering, and technology to sixth grade classrooms around the state. The volunteer visitors' goal: to persuade students to consider careers in the fields.

The initiative, DIGITS, will be announced today at the sixth annual STEM Summit in Sturbridge, which explores ways to improve science, technology, engineering, and math education. Plotkin, now president emerita of MassTLC, will speak about the new initiative, and debut a theme song written by Tezz Yancey, an alumnus of the Boston Conservatory. (There's also a DIGITS music video on YouTube.)

While Massachusetts students perform well on standardized tests related to math and science, they don't seem drawn to careers that rely on those skills: this year, 22 percent of students who took the SAT test in Massachusetts said them planned to pursue a STEM career, compared to 28 percent nationally.

Plotkin says she has raised $260,000 in grant funding for the new program from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. But future funding from the state is uncertain, she acknowledges.

(In the pic up top, courtesy of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Plotkin is talking with State Rep. Dan Bosley.)

Plotkin says the program will focus on sixth-grade students because her research has shown that by seventh grade, "kids were already negative on careers in math and science. But sixth graders weren't. We're trying to counteract the nerd image by introducing them to people who actually work in these fields."

The DIGITS initiative will roll out next month with a focus on central Massachusetts; Lt. Governor Tim Murray will be part of the inaugural session next Monday, at the Roosevelt School in Worcester.

Plotkin says that nearly fifty companies, including Raytheon, iRobot Corp., and IBM, have agreed to support the new initiative by encouraging their employees to volunteer. The alliance that will support DIGITS includes the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (where Plotkin still receives a part-time salary), the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and the New England Clean Energy Council, among others. She adds that DIGITS is still looking for more volunteers, especially outside of greater Boston.

The DIGITS program has created stickers and playing cards featuring icons related to fields like science, clean energy, and technology. The poster is below.


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1 comments so far...
  1. Three cheers for Joyce. It sounds like the early Software Council days revisited with educational initiatives such as the Switched On Classroom (w/ co-conspirator David Blohm), etc...

    Posted by David Solomont October 20, 09 01:05 PM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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