Volkswagen gives $50,000 to new STEM high schoolDuring a news conference Monday, Volkswagen announced a $50,000 donation to Hamilton County Schools to help fund the new STEM high school. The school, which will host 78 incoming freshmen, will focus on science, engineering, technology and math.
The following organizations have pledged funds or supplies to support Hamilton County's new STEM school:
• First Tennessee Bank
• Franklin and Associates
• Campbell & Associates
• CBL & Associates
• Ben O'Neal Co.
• BASF Global
• Excel Energy Group
• Electronic Controls Inc.
• Dependable Fire
• American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Source: Hamilton County Schools
Evans Ayala works on a robot as Daejanae Williams, Gercara Robinson and Chanel Blackmon take a break during a STEM school summer camp at Chattanooga State Community College. The STEM school got a $50,000 infusion from VW on Monday. The school is a new institution that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.Photo by Allison Love.
Hamilton County School officials are hoping a $50,000 gift from Volkswagen will carry them through the home stretch of funding a new science, technology, engineering and math school, a process that has taken longer than they hoped.
Local business leaders pledged support when the county's STEM school was announced in the spring, but actual funding has lagged, pushing the school board to borrow $500,000 from its capital projects fund to prepare the school in time for the 2012-13 year, which begins Aug. 13.
With VW's gift added to other donations from local companies like Unum and First Tennessee Bank, the school system now needs about $150,000 to get it to its goal of having enough money to get STEM up and running, said schools Superintendent Rick Smith.
"We're getting there," Smith said Monday during a news conference to announce VW's donation. "We'll continue to fundraise. I expect we'll be having some other announcements soon."
To create the STEM program, the school system won a $1.8 million state grant, but that money was never meant to cover the whole project. The grant's approval depended on the school's receiving the support of local businesses, higher education institutions and philanthropic organizations. Originally, 30 companies signed onto the project, and roughly half of those have come through with donations.
VW joins Unum, which gave $100,000 toward the STEM effort, and First Tennessee Bank, which donated $25,000, along with other companies that have donated money, labor or resources.
Smith said VW's donation makes good on early promises to foster local education initiatives.
"I remember about a year ago visiting Volkswagen for my first time. ... I was impressed with the commitment that [leaders] expressed in actively participating in developing our school system," he said. "Volkswagen understands the importance of STEM."
During their announcement Monday, VW leaders said they saw the donation as a long-term investment in sharpening potential future employees' skills.
"I believe very deeply that people need to understand math, physics, their mother tongue and a second language," said Hans-Herbert Jagla, executive vice president of human resources for VW's Chattanooga operations. "That will guarantee a good future for the people here. But the school needs to keep moving ahead at a fast pace."
VW's donation comes several months after Gov. Bill Haslam and other local officials voiced disappointment that the company was looking beyond the local workforce to fill about 1,000 specialty positions.
"We really do have to train more students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," Haslam said at the time.
Jagla said the company wants to hire from a local base, but the skill sets of local workers don't always match the descriptions for high-tech managerial jobs such as manufacturing engineers and logistics supervisors.
Investing in STEM should help rework that, said Jagla, who added that VW plans to remain involved with local STEM efforts by helping train teachers and suggesting curriculum items.
"Volkswagen is not only telling us this is what we need in a workforce, but they're giving us the financial support and the resources and the intellectual capital that we need to implement those programs for students and teachers," said Tracey Carisch, managing director of the region's STEM hub, a resource center managed through the Public Education Foundation that serves 17 East Tennessee counties.
Carisch stressed that STEM programs still need partners as the school year starts -- both big companies like VW and "that retired woman that's a Master Gardener who wants to work with young kids."
The high school will start with 78 ninth-graders and will add about 75 more students each fall until it reaches a 300-student capacity, officials have said.
Construction is moving ahead in the 75,000-square-foot converted warehouse space, which is in the former Olan Mills building on Chattanooga State Community College's campus.
It should be completed in a few weeks, Smith said.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.