The Union Recorder

July 20, 2013

STEM Summit attracts positive attention

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — STEM Summit 2013, with hopes of creating buy in from numerous colleges, universities and local teachers, was held on the campuses of Georgia College and Central State Hospital Wednesday and Thursday.

Educators in STEM or science, technology, engineering and mathematics heard presentations from respected figures within these disciplines. The summit’s main message surrounded an organization’s plans to house a renowned analytical training laboratory in Milledgeville.

A former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratory director, Darrell Davis, wants the city to become a STEM education hub. With the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority’s (CSHLRA) help, Davis hopes to have the old Wilkes Building retrofitted for a laboratory program by next summer.

Davis retired from the DEA in August 2012 and approached the CSHLRA representing his Committee for Action Program Services (CAPS) non-profit.

CAPS is a science and technology organization located in Cedar Hill, Texas. The primary objective of the organization is to provide professional development for k-12 science educators and encourage minority students to seek STEM career fields.

Since then, Davis started a new for-profit company called CAPS-Analytical Training Laboratory, LLC. He wants Central State to house a CAPS-ATL facility as part of the campus reuse efforts.

Milledgeville Mayor Richard Bentley welcomed STEM intellectuals from Auburn, the University of Mississippi, Winston Salem State, Louisiana State University, University of Texas-Arlington and Georgia College to name a few Wednesday.

“We are excited about what the STEM program is going to mean to this community and what it means to expose and encourage young people to get involved in the sciences. The challenge we have here, as with most cities outside of Atlanta, is to find innovative ways to create jobs,” Bentley said. “I appreciate your interest in this STEM program to lend your expertise, knowledge and experience into what we hope will evolve into an elite program where we can expose our young people to the sciences.”

Georgia College Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Kelli Brown was delighted to host the first STEM Summit on campus.

From the GC Early College perspective, increasing understanding of science and mathematics produces better-prepared k-12 teachers and students pursuing STEM degrees and vocations. The Early College program wants to shape forensic curriculum into its day-to-day magnet.

Brown hoped “to provide fertile ground for the CAPS-ATL consortium concept to sprout and blossom.”

The 10,000 square feet Wilkes building will offer this consortium of colleges and universities a well-equipped laboratory.

“Your students and teachers will have access to the instrumentation in that building. That’s the plan,” Davis told the STEM supporters.

From elementary school to college level, insufficient instrumentation access limits national advancement in analytical and forensics fields. CAPS-ATL plans to bridge the gap.

“As a lab director, one of the worst things we hate is to have to spend seven months training a recent college graduate. They don’t have a clue,” Davis said. “We need hands on. At the elementary school level, these kids can learn basic instrumentation.”

Dr. Murrell Godfrey, director of the Forensic Chemistry Program at Ole Miss, said the training equipment and space is vital.

“Even at the University of Mississippi, we have to turn students away because we don’t have the facility and the time to train them. With this in Milledgeville, we can send students here during the summer, which will save us at least a year’s worth of in lab training,” Godfrey said.

Dr. Joycelynn Nelson, a Milledgeville native and CAPS-ATL vice-chairman, said the town’s future lab would influence STEM subject matters that sway billion dollar conversations and investments.

Developing a global perspective and inclusive mindset at an early age can address the 14 worldwide grand science challenges described by keynote speaker Dr. Erick Jones from the University of Texas-Arlington.

Issues such as fusion energy, health care and water shortage require some immediate breakthroughs. STEM is the universal language.

“Education and science is going to be global. If we are all speaking a different language, it’s going to be very difficult for us to educate the next generation. The next generation is demanding us to be better,” Jones said.

With the poor state of STEM education and graduation rates in state and beyond, this CAPS-ATL consortium could help elevate the rankings. Nelson said, “if you do not have the opportunity create the opportunity.”

The local success story said the analytical lab concept would start in Milledgeville, then hopefully expand to other counties, states and the world.

“Darrell Davis said he wanted to setup a laboratory centered around school children, graduates and professionals based on analytical chemistry and forensics science. I’d love nothing more than for this to be a model for the rest of the world starting right here in Milledgeville for kids to have access to research grade instrumentation. Early exposure should increase their confidence level and place them ahead of their cohort when they attend college,” Nelson said.

Forensics has created a new field of scientific interest. Davis said CAPS-ATL would turn research into entrepreneurial opportunities.

Simple projects introduce children to the STEM world, as Davis desires to bring youngsters and professors from all over the country instrumentation access.

“A science fair project is the beginning of research. We want this type of synergy in Milledgeville,” the DEA legend said. “We may not get instrumentation to every high school or k-12 program, but let them come to Milledgeville in the summer time. It can, will and shall be done.”

Godfrey said this Central State based lab would give different populations the opportunity to catch up with the rest of the world.

“I think the initiative that (Davis) is doing and the vision that he has is invaluable. It has so much potential to do not only things for the city of Milledgeville, but the whole United States in training those who do not have the instrumentation to learn the trade of science,” the Ole Miss professor said.

CAPS-ATL has support from the DEA, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and NASA, according to Davis.

With collective higher education backing, the organization can write grants for federal STEM funds. Nelson said Auburn University verbally hopped on board even saying its professors would come and recruit at Georgia College.

CSHLRA Vice Chair Dudley Rowe described Milledgeville’s new STEM direction as a joint benefit to Central State repurposing and national education levels.

“I think (Davis) is one of the many bright spots we have on the horizon. He is part of a solution on so many issues. I think he has the capability with our help to bridge all of that. Darrell is a blessing to our community,” Rowe said.

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