Ohio’s first agriscience STEM school to open

Ohio State University's algae research facility in Wooster, Ohio.

SALEM, Ohio — Responding to job market demand, high schools and technical schools across the country have made a significant investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This fall, Ohio will have a high school that focuses solely on these four disciplines, with an extra focus on agriculture.

Known as the Global Impact Stem Academy, the school will serve a student’s high school requirements while also providing the opportunity for some college credit and workforce certification.

Spearheaded by state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, the Global Impact school will be the first regional STEM school in the state dedicated to a specific industry: agricultural science.

Widener said he traveled the state talking to the largest industries and there was a noticeable demand for project-focussed, hands-on jobs.

“It was obvious they (employers) were looking for these kinds of people to fill jobs,” he said.

Experienced leader

Joshua Jennings, an experienced educator and former farmer, will direct the school, which will be housed at Clark State Community College in Springfield.

He said the school will align its graduates “with the job market and what’s needed in the state.”

In many cases, those are “high-demand, high-wage, high-skill jobs,” that simply require a solid basis in the sciences.In addition to the main areas of study, students will learn about ag biosciences, food, energy and the environment. There will be increased emphasis on hands-on learning, real-world problem solving, creative and critical thinking.

“I’m excited,” Jennings said. “This is something that is going to be so powerful and what a great opportunity for our region. It’s an incredible opportunity for students and parents alike.”

Widener said some of the jobs have a starting pay of $60,000 a year. His goal is to eventually have STEM schools in urban areas, as well, he said.

“It’s (ag biosciences) a high growth, great industry,” he said. “That’s what we ought to be trading our high school kids for.”

Diverse support

The school was made possible by business, academic and community partners. They include Ohio State University, Wright State University, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Clark State Community College and Bob Evans Farms.

Bob Evans plans to support the school with curriculum development and internships at places like the company’s new quality assurance lab being built in New Albany, and at the company’s original farm and homestead in Rio Grande, as well as in its plants and restaurants.

“Given our agricultural heritage and our commitment to education, we are proud to be part of the team helping shape the new STEM Academy,” Bob Evans Farms CEO Steve Davis said in a released statement. “We look forward to offering students quality learning experiences with food science and quality assurance teams, as well as at our homestead and farm in Rio Grande.”

The school does not charge tuition and is considered a public school, but applications will be required. Classes are expected to begin in August.Jennings is a former student of OSU’s Agricultural Technical Institute and OSU main campus in Columbus. He is a past agricultural education teacher and school administrator.Enrollment expectations. The school will start out serving students in grades 9-12.

Jennings hopes to have about 75 students in the first year of enrollment. About five full-time faculty are expected the first year.

Technically, students can come from anywhere in the state, but he expects the highest concentration will be local students, because of transportation and logistics issues.As for athletics and extra curricular activities, Jennings said students should be able to maintain athletic participation at their school of residence, if they choose.

For Jennings, the position of director is his latest in an “evolution” of ag-related careers.

“A decade ago, I considered nothing more rewarding than a career in production agriculture,” he said in a released statement. “Now, after my fulfilling experiences in education and administration, nothing excites me more than joining Global Impact to bring such a unique educational opportunity to the students of our region — preparing them to make their mark on food and agriculture, bioscience, energy and the environment.”

For more about the school, visit www.globalimpactacademy.org.

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