Thursday, July 30, 2020

STEM Education Partnership with Alexandria City Schools


Virginia Tech is partnering with Alexandria City Public Schools to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math opportunities for students and create potential pathways to higher education.

Virginia Tech faculty will work with ACPS to strengthen four key areas of K-12 academics that were identified through a year-long consulting process with the university. They are:

  • Enhancing the science curriculum across elementary school years.
  • Providing support and professional learning to staff at the city’s two STEM-focused elementary schools, Cora Kelly School for Math, Science, and Technology and Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, to refine their teaching. 
  • Middle school STEM exploration, including alignment of afterschool and summer programs.
  • The continuation of developing pathways from high school to college for low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students.

“This agreement lays the foundation for a partnership that will be a model for K-12/ higher education collaboration in the commonwealth,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said. “It’s an important step that will create pathways that increase college access and help expand the state’s tech talent pipeline.”

The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus is expanding the university’s footprint in Alexandria.

Julia Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech, said the partnership with ACPS is one of numerous initiatives designed to increase pathways into computer science, computer engineering and other STEM disciplines.

“We are constantly thinking about and working to leverage all of the things that we do at the college to grow talent here in the commonwealth,” she said. “A key piece of that strategy is engaging with elementary and high school students to spark their interest in STEM at an early age.”

The partnership will build on the success of Virginia Tech’s Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab in Falls Church, a STEM outreach program supported by the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity and Virginia Tech’s School of Education. Since 2016, thousands of students have visited the lab to learn how to wire, program, and craft their own innovations.

Virginia Cooperative Extension will play a critical role in helping the new partnership.

“We are an arm of Virginia Tech that is located and connected directly to the Alexandria community,” said Alexandria-based Extension Agent Reggie Morris. “By utilizing an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach we anticipate the ability to work with the entire family to improve the quality of life of those connected to Alexandria City Public Schools.”

Extension’s main goal in all programming efforts is to positively impact the citizens of Virginia, especially those considered to be at-risk or underserved by utilizing practical research-based knowledge to handle life’s challenges. Extension will take that same mindset into this partnership and specifically focus on the development of STEM-related programming and professional development, improvement of out of school time programming, and supporting college access for at-risk and underserved students.

The memorandum of agreement was signed by ACPS Superintendent of Schools Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, Virginia Cooperative Extension Director Edwin Jones, and Virginia Tech Associate Vice Provost for College Access Karen Eley Sanders.

This partnership increases equitable access to opportunities in the STEM field for children who may not have otherwise had those opportunities,” said Hutchings. “Through it, our staff will be able to provide our students with even more engaging and creative learning experiences.”

The Innovation Campus will make its home in the first phase of a new mixed-use development and innovation district in North Potomac Yard that JBG SMITH is developing near the future Potomac Yard Metrorail Station. The university expects to break ground on the first academic building in 2021 and welcome students, faculty, and staff into the completed building in fall 2024.

Lance Collins joins Virginia Tech as the Innovation Campus's first vice president and executive director in mid-August, just before the inaugural class of Innovation Campus students will start classes.