Turning Fun into a Workforce

When a voice of concern from the community began to grow, the Somerset County Library stepped in to the save the day. Sitting in on different community meetings, Somerset County Library director Cheryl Morgan noticed a recurring issue — a lack of knowledge in Science Technology Engineering Art and Math, commonly known as STEAM. “Companies stated that they had positions to fill that required STEM skills or education and there did not seem to be anyone local to fill the positions. Parents voiced that they wished their children would stay local when entering their careers,” says Cheryl.

The library used a $1,000 grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies’ Benjamin Bosler Fund, plus an additional $2,000 from the CFA’s Somerset County Community Fund, to create a STEAM pilot program, which adds Art to the sciences.

The library’s STEAM program introduced children ages 5 to 12 to STEM activities, education and materials. Organizers far exceeded their original goal of reaching 100 children, serving 472 in the target age group, plus 77 children outside of the 5-12 year old range, and another 86 adults. Cheryl owes part of this success to the library’s safe, welcoming, environment.

“Parents are grateful for this program,” says Cheryl. “Some said they couldn’t afford access to the STEM toys or technology in order to create an interest of STEM in their children or fulfill their children’s preexisting STEM interest.” Children also love the program. “Children thought that doing activities involved in STEM would be too hard for them to do. They’re surprised how simple it actually is, especially when they can program a robot to do simple actions and tasks.”

Their program came in many formats, but the most popular was, by far, the summer camp. The library held six camps at six different locations. As the summer wound down, organizers started fielding requests for an after school program, and a growing interest in collaborating with other organizations in the area, including the Boys and Girls Club of Somerset County, Camp Harmony, and Camp Allegheny. Now the Lions Club is working to support the program by raising money for a minivan so the Library can take STEAM on the road.

With the success of the pilot program, the Somerset County Library has created a permanent one, with plans to expand. Right now, the library offers two STEM classes a week, and Cheryl is looking to hire a program coordinator to develop curriculum. “One of the ideas the library has for this coordinator position is to create challenges for the children,” says Cheryl. “These challenges would ideally focus on something called a little kit. With those, the children would create designs either in teams or individually and then present what they came up with and talk about any issues they had or any improvements needed on their designs. One specific example of a scenario that may be used in the future is that the kids are stuck on an island with only a few supplies and they need to create a plan on how to survive or escape.”

Disguised as fun for children, the library is creating playgrounds in young minds, where innovation takes shape. As their success indicates, it’s also meeting a critical community need, preparing the next generation for a modern workplace.

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