New STEM facility gives educational boost to Boys and Girls Club

Dec. 1—The new work area took up a small corner of the Boys and Girls Club of Frederick, but could make a big difference in the lives of children who use the club's building on Burck Street in Frederick.

The club's new STEM center, featuring tools to teach children ideas in science, technology, engineering, and math, was provided by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Edgewater Federal Solutions.

On Wednesday, the club's staff members got their first look at the new equipment, learning how it works, so they can help their students learn how to use it.

The new STEM center will emphasize the fun that goes into STEM research, and help give examples of the wide-ranging areas that it covers, said Timika Thrasher, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Frederick County.

The program will provide tools and equipment that the club otherwise can't afford.

"This is going to be an amazing chance for us to do something totally different," Thrasher said.

Along with the advantages for students, projects like this one help address a major shortage in the supply of workers trained in STEM ideas, said Lorelie Yockman, corporate accounting officer for Edgewater.

The firm provides more than 30 federal and commercial customers with their information technology, cybersecurity, and professional services needs, and they've felt the impact of the growing shortage over the past 10 years, Yockman said.

"This is just a part of our passion for IT and seeing it grow," she said.

According to the National Science Board, the United States' STEM workforce — more than 36 million workers in a wide variety of fields — makes up 23% of the country's total workforce.

But a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center found that Black and Hispanic workers were underrepresented in the STEM workforce compared to their share of the overall workforce.

And while women made up about 74% of health care practitioners and technicians, they were underrepresented in fields such as engineering, computer science, and physical science compared to their share of the workforce overall.

The Ripken Foundation worked with Edgewater on a similar project out in New Mexico, said Stephanie Green, senior director of development for the foundation.

Cal Ripken Sr. was a great mentor to children in Aberdeen before his death in 1999, and his sons Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken started the foundation in 2001 to help honor his legacy, Green said.

The foundation got involved in STEM education in 2016, as a way to get children involved in STEM issues and give them mentors and role models, she said.

Their programs can help "fill the gap where kids aren't getting impacted as much," said Tim Bancells, assistant director of STEM for the foundation.

It's important to get students started early, in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, to show them that STEM ideas can be found in all parts of life, Green said.

Thrasher said the new center will help their students learn a lot, both from their teachers and from each other.

"Having the hands-on [activities] will be really, really good. I'm excited," she said.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP