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2021 Excellence in STEM Leadership Winner: Meg Draeger

“All students can benefit from a STEM mindset, and I encourage all students to explore the value of a STEM education for all careers.” That’s how Meg Draeger, recent winner of the Excellence in STEM Leadership Award, views STEM coursework. Draeger is STEMM coordinator at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School in Dayton, where she oversees a variety of programs including STEM summer camps, a speaker series and student involvement in STEM-related service efforts. Her award, from Ohio STEM Learning Network, recognizes a school-level, district or regional leader with a proven track record of developing effective STEM programs. To learn more about Draeger’s work at Chaminade Julienne, we asked her a few questions:

Q: Tell us about your background, both in education and in the private sector, before coming to Chaminade Julienne. What prompted you to become a high school teacher and STEMM coordinator at the Dayton school?

Meg Draeger headshot

A: I grew up in Westchester County, New York, earned my Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering at the University of Illinois, and moved to Dayton, Ohio, upon graduation for a job as a manufacturing engineer at NCR Corporation’s last electronics plant in Dayton.

I was the first female engineer in that department, working with and for a great group of men who had worked up through the ranks, earned some degrees and gained tremendous on-the-job, hands-on technical skills. It was a great introduction for me, as a newly graduated engineer, to the world of manufacturing and engineering and an opportunity to be part of a large corporation founded on those pillars.

I always had an interest in putting my engineering degree to use in the service sector, and, after three years at NCR, went to work for Bethesda Hospital/TriHealth in Cincinnati as a management engineer, where I was the first degreed engineer in that department. I transitioned to an industry and colleague group dominated by women, working with only one other engineer, but thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to apply engineering and technical skills and techniques to serve patients and families.

When my husband and I had our first child, I switched from full- to part-time, and the Dayton-to-Cincinnati commute became longer than desired, so I made another job change to get on board at Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton’s Advanced Integrated Manufacturing (AIM) Center as a project manager.

There, rather quickly, I became involved in, and began to grow my passion for, introducing young people to the world of engineering and manufacturing, by way of the college’s National Science Foundation grants that enabled school visits to the college and local STEM worksites, and summer teacher externships at local employers.

I coordinated the TIES – Teachers in Industry for Educational Support – program for 11 years, hosted more than 400 K-12 teachers, primarily high school level, in math, science and career-technical subjects, and recruited and matched them to work for three weeks at more than 100 local employers, for-profit and not-for-profit. This began my passion for facilitating business/education connections to get teachers out of the classroom and into a STEM workplace.

As the years and TIES program progressed, and I networked and collaborated with many teachers of multiple grade levels and subject areas, I recognized and appreciated wider applications and evidence of STEM at work in the world and wanted to share those with students and teachers.

While I was working at Sinclair and for the Miami Valley Tech Prep Consortium, the state developed a new engineering technology Tech Prep pathway for which I was a part of the curriculum development team, a joint business/education effort, and Project Lead the Way (PLTW) was introduced in Ohio.

Along the way, being a female engineer myself, I particularly sought programs and resources to inspire female students to explore the world of STEM, and, while presenting a session on that topic at the state PLTW conference at Sinclair in fall 2008, the principal of Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School (CJ) invited me to join its staff as its first STEMM program coordinator to design and grow the program, founded on the PLTW engineering and biomedical science courses that the school had introduced as electives that year.

I joined the CJ staff in January 2009, and remain, 12 years later, part-time all along. I have seen our CJ PLTW program grow in enrollment; design, remodel and open innovative learning spaces and a new engineering lab in 2013; and expand in partnership with a growing number of employers, alumni and community organizations.

My journey of sharing the world of STEM with great numbers of students, teachers and families, in collaboration with a variety of business and community partners, continues to be a fulfilling reason to greet each new day and school year. My own upbringing and attendance at Catholic schools for elementary and high school further strengthened my interest in giving back and supporting Catholic schools in their quest to provide quality STEM education.

Q: What does your current position entail?

Meg Draeger at computerA: My current role is primarily one of relationship manager and connector. I design and support co- and extracurricular programming for students at CJ and partner grade schools, in collaboration with teachers and community partners.

I remain abreast of, and disseminate, many career awareness, exploration, experiential enrichment and professional development opportunities for students and teachers that are offered locally and in our region, state and nationwide.

I research, suggest and recommend particular programs that are longstanding, high quality and often unfamiliar to teachers and families, and I encourage and facilitate participation in those (e.g., help students complete and submit program applications, help teachers develop grant applications, write recommendations for applicants and sometimes serve as a program mentor).

I serve as the community face of CJ STEMM and facilitate opportunities for teachers and students to interact in our community, thus leading the marketing and public relations element of our STEMM program.

Q: Describe your school, its student population and its mission. How does this mesh with your own educational philosophy?

A: Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School is a culturally rich community of families seeking an excellent Catholic educational experience. Students come to CJ from more than 60 ZIP codes and gain the unique advantage of learning with students from different backgrounds and experiences.

The school continues to be a thought leader in secondary education, adapting to the needs of today’s students. CJ provides a rigorous college prep curriculum that incorporates Advanced Placement courses and innovative teaching in each academic department.

CJ became the first Catholic high school in Ohio to be dually certified in PLTW’s biomedical science and engineering curricula, giving students the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school. CJ was also a pilot school for City Connects and has implemented the program, which serves every student in maximizing his or her high school experience, since 2010.

The school is grounded in the mission and tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) and the Society of Mary, and firmly established on the foundation of its predecessor schools: Notre Dame Academy and Julienne, Chaminade and St. Joseph Commercial high schools.

Our school is located in downtown Dayton and is a unique community- and alumni-supported school in an urban environment. Our student population is 50% non-Caucasian and 40% non-Catholic, and 89% of our students receive financial aid or scholarships to attend.

The school’s mission is to educate the whole person, work for justice and develop family spirit, all grounded in the Catholic tradition. Those elements reflect my own personal life mission and vision, and the vision I bring to the implementation of our STEMM program.

STEM is not just for a subset of students who will pursue a STEM degree in college or ultimately work in a STEM position; all students can benefit from a STEM mindset, and I encourage all students to explore the value of a STEM education for all careers.

STEM professionals and their work benefit humankind and make a difference in the world, and STEM techniques and mindset can be used to contribute to meeting sustainable development goals and promoting justice for all people.

Q: Your application for the award says, “Meg connects across all academic departments at the school to advance co-curricular integration across STEMM, STEAM (Art) and STREAM (Religion).” How do you accomplish this? Can you give us examples?

A: One example is the Toys for God’s Kids program, which is a national program in which retired hobbyist woodworkers, community volunteers and students design and build small wooden toy cars that they donate to children throughout the world, with recipients identified by the local chapters.

At CJ, from 2013-19, monthly student after/before-school service sessions were held at the school, and 1,285 cars were donated to children in Dayton, Cincinnati, Florida, New Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Africa through our student mission trips, families, alumni and sponsoring religious organizations. Our Ministry and Service department was invited to provide an annual student leader for the program, one year a Girls in STEMM Club student leader helped out, the Senior Capstone Project teacher/coordinator helped recruit a student team to lead one year, and our faculty professional development team included the service project as a faculty/staff service activity for several years.

Another example is the integration of the SNDdeN Clean Water for Life! African Photovoltaic Project – https://www.sndohio.org/our-work/clean-water-project  – into our four PLTW engineering courses, our Ministry and Service department activities and student leadership groups, and art classes.

Five teachers and 101 students within our engineering courses participated in 2020-21, as did two additional teachers and 23 middle school-age students in our 2021 summer camp. The project was funded by an Implement Engineering! grant that I received in 2020 from the American Society for Engineering Education’s Pre-College Engineering Education Division. (See this grant after-project summary)

One art teacher and her students engaged with the African Photovoltaic Project in 2017, funded by an Innovative Teaching grant that I received from the Miami Valley Catholic Schools region. (See this detailed project description)

Q: How do you incorporate outside experts/speakers into your STEM curriculum?

A: Our monthly (and sometimes semi-monthly) STEMM Idol Speaker Series, from 2009-21, hosted 151 sessions during homeroom periods that were open to all interested CJ students. Each session featured a 20-minute presentation/visit from a local STEM professional and/or alumnus who presented his/her educational and career path and inspiration about a specific STEMM field in a casual, interactive session in our school’s Library/Community Space. Except for the first and last years of the series, student attendance averaged 38 for a session.

I work with individual teachers – especially in PLTW and science courses – to help them identify classroom guests/subject matter experts whom they invite to present and interact with students during class time, according to specific topics being addressed.

I work with the Senior Capstone Project coordinator (also an English teacher) to identify and recommend potential projects and mentors who are professionals in the community, for STEM-related projects and others that I learn about.

Annually, our PLTW civil engineering and architecture students participate in the local American Institute of Architects (AIA) Dayton High School Design Competition, in which architectural professionals come into the classroom and mentor students through the design project.

Students in that same civil engineering and architecture course annually engage in a team project modeled after the national AIA CANstruction competitions. The students design and construct a structure made with canned and boxed non-perishable food that our school collects each fall for Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. That CANstruction project is mentored by a local architect, whose parent is a CJ alumnus, and his firm.

Our STEMM summer camps, hosted every year since 2009, except for 2020, engage many guest presenters and field trips to local STEM workplaces. Premier Health serves as our primary academic partner for health care and medicine contacts, and it additionally offers job shadowing, teen volunteer, and career quest activities, and custom-designed experiences for our high school students and campers.

Q: According to your application, you “highlight the potential for STEM work to be a ‘ministry’ and of service to others.” How does this coordinate with the school’s mission? Can you give us examples of STEM becoming a ministry at your school or in your own endeavors?

A: The Toys for God’s Kids program described above is one example. The SNDdeN Clean Water for Life! African Photovoltaic Project is another. The engineering project manager for that global project, currently residing in the United Kingdom, has interacted with our students and middle school-age summer campers in live Zoom sessions, and in in-person sessions before COVID, as he comes to the United States at least once each year.

He is a degreed electrical engineer who worked in the public sector and for-profit companies before accepting the position as project manager and lead engineer for the sisters’ project more than 10 years ago.

Another SNDdeN colleague, a retired engineer in Cincinnati, volunteers as the local manager and lead for a Learning Lab in Cincinnati developed for the project. He likewise has interacted with our students over the years. Those are two great examples of people I introduce to our students who have made engineering and technical careers and expertise a “ministry.”

Students (and the general public) need to see and meet people who exemplify the fact that engineering and STEM careers are helping positions.

Q: How does your school promote the concept of STEM for All, including students of color and female students?

A: Our student population is very diverse, as presented in our school profile on our website – https://www.cjeagles.org/visit-cj/quick-facts – and above. We have an extensive longstanding and lauded, fully integrated special-education program called Cuvilly, whose students are integrated into the full range of academic course levels, including General, College Prep, Honors, AP and PLTW.

I especially do my best to reflect similar diversity in the STEM guests I recruit, the organizations and community groups I involve and invite to become CJ STEMM partners, and the programs and opportunities I promote to our students and families (e.g., Girl Scouts, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, National Center for Women & Information Technology, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, MIT Women’s Initiative and similar organizations unique to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and industry sectors in our region).

This school year, I mentored a female 10th-grader to apply to the national AmbassadorGirl program to design and lead a monthly after-school Girls in STEM club for sixth- through eighth-grade students at a  partner Catholic grade school. Although she was not selected for the competitive (limited in number accepted) AmbassadorGirl program, we will implement her planned club this school year, beginning in September.

In the 2018-19 school year, I served as Gold Award adviser to a student who was working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award, and she planned and implemented an after-school Girls in STEMM club at our school.

Q: Tell us about any other programs at your school that are STEM-based and how they positively impact the students they serve.

A: The PLTW courses provide the foundation for our STEMM program. Those PLTW courses are elective courses. Our science teachers have embraced a project-based learning approach in their teaching and do their best to share and spread that approach to other academic departments.

Our required Integrated Social Justice Research Project – a project completed by every student individually – integrates 11th-grade religion and English courses and serves as a precursor to the required 12th-grade Senior Capstone Project, completed by teams of students.

As much as possible, when students and teams are particularly interested in STEM and enrolled in multiple years of the PLTW courses (either engineering or biomed), I work with the English, religion and PLTW teachers to help design those projects to integrate their STEM interest and STEM community partners and mentors.

Q: How did the pandemic impact your educational efforts?

A: Due in most part to diligent COVID-related protocol and practice, our school remained in-person for much of the 2020-21 academic year, with a few intermittent remote learning segments. Students maintained the option the entire year to attend virtually.

The biggest change was that all courses for the entire school year were delivered in semester format, with students enrolled in four courses fall semester and four courses spring semester. That necessitated more careful planning of the Clean Water for Life! project in the engineering courses, and its virtual format of guest presentations, rather than the desired in-person sessions.

I was not able to schedule any STEMM Idol homeroom speaker sessions because there were not regular homeroom periods, and our school did not allow visitors in the building. We did offer three after-school virtual speaker sessions in the spring semester that saw low attendance.

The biggest impact to our STEMM program, and my work, was the absence of outreach events at area grade schools and community partners (i.e., Dayton Metro Library, Girl Scout Council, Big Hoopla NCAA First Four STEM Challenge, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery and TechFest Dayton). None of those events took place in-person, and few were transformed to virtual events.

With the help of our CJ Communications department, we did create and submit a student-led video on a biomedical science topic that was included in the virtual TechFest Dayton event.

For the most part, after-school clubs were put on hold, with a few meeting the second half of the school year. Our Computer Science Club, moderated by an alumnus who works in the IT industry, met sporadically in the spring. A FIRST Robotics Club that meets at our school, with a few CJ student members but coached and moderated by non-CJ employees, met sporadically and participated virtually in at least one competition.

Q: What programs/initiatives do you hope to launch in the future at Chaminade Julienne?

A: With the help of a shared science/biomed teacher/part-time administrator in the 2021-22 school year, I hope to increase engagement of STEM professionals in PLTW, science, and math classes; develop a structured STEMMbassador program of students to serve at our numerous outreach events, modeled after our Admission department’s successful Eagle Ambassador program; engage more teachers and students in the Clean Water for Life! African Photovoltaic Project; and cultivate an environment and culture of Engineering Lab maintenance and supervision by PLTW engineering teachers and students.

That last goal is made more difficult than usual because three of the four engineering courses are taught by University of Dayton graduate engineering students who come to our school only for the class periods in which they teach. I intend to encourage a mentality that views and treats the Engineering Lab as an employer’s workspace where the classes and students “come to work” for a set time each day.

I have also had preliminary meetings with our local Learn to Earn Dayton and Play on Purpose (POP) program by which I hope to engage our engineering teachers and students and Society of Women Engineers University of Dayton and South Ohio section members to design and build a POP Spot near our school during the 2021-22 school year. (www.learntoearndayton.org/play-on-purpose)

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