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Chamber moves to ‘lead out front’ with STEM Teacher Externship program

Black workers are underrepresented in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); but the Greater Memphis Chamber is working to change this by preparing local teachers with the tools needed to get more students involved in STEM. By diversifying the workforce with more skilled workers, Greater Memphis Chamber leaders hope to bring more jobs to Memphis. 

In an attempt to “lead out front,” the Chamber launched its STEM Teacher Externship on June 20. After a highly competitive application process, four local teacher externs were selected to complete the two-week program. The externs— Raven Lomax (Power Center Academy), Bethony Cousins (East High School), Gene Robinson II (Bolton High School), and Jodi Woody (Medical District High School)—will receive hands-on training to equip them to prepare students for STEM careers.

“We expect the STEM Teacher Externship Program to become one of the Chamber’s flagship programs as we work to create new and better pathways to careers,” said Amity Schuyler, senior vice president of Workforce Development for the Chamber. “Without business input, classroom curriculum can’t possibly keep pace with advancements in the workplace. We’re giving teachers the first-hand knowledge they need to help their students learn about careers they may have never even dreamed of pursuing before.”

The program embeds the four teachers at three local businesses–Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Juice Plus+, and Buckman International—to promote better understanding, teaching, and student counseling around STEM careers. Once completed, the teacher externs will receive vouchers to help incorporate STEM learning in classrooms. 

Ted Townsend, chief economic development officer of the Greater Memphis Chamber, will become president and CEO with Beverly Robertson’s departure in December. (Courtesy photo)

“One of the first questions businesses ask as they look to move to Memphis is about the availability of our skilled workforce,” said Ted Townsend, chief economic development officer of the Greater Memphis Chamber. “The STEM Teacher Externship Program is another example we can point to that shows our region is dedicated to building one of the most robust and inclusive talent pipelines in the nation.”

This program is aligned with the Chamber’s ambitious strategic growth plan, Prosper Memphis 2030, to create a more “inclusive and prosperous” Memphis.  

The plan has three primary goals: to create inclusive high-quality jobs with half going to minorities, add diverse industries, and prepare talent with a goal of graduating 20,000 Stem graduates per year, with 45 percent of the degrees going to black students.

Nationally, black students earn only 7 percent of STEM-related degrees-making, them the most underrepresented demographic in the field, according to research by the Pew Research Center. This decline in prospective Black scientists, engineers, and mathematicians is occurring even as demand increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in STEM fields is projected to grow twice as fast in the next decade. STEM jobs also offer comparatively higher salaries and benefits than many other occupations.

Researchers credit the low number of black students graduating with STEM-related degrees to a lack of representation in the STEM education system. And with Black or African Americans making up the largest demographic in Memphis, a focus on investing in a diverse workforce is at the forefront of the Chamber’s STEM Teacher Externship Program.

“Equity is at the very center of this plan to create a more prosperous, more inclusive Memphis,” said Townsend, “As last year showed, we’re already in the economic development playoffs, but we want the championships. By the end of 2030, we want to be able to point at our regional scoreboard and do the Ja Morant victory dance.”

(For more information about applying as an extern or hosting an extern, visit the Greater Memphis Chamber’s website.)


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