Building bridges, shaping futures: Partnering for STEM in Akron

A STEM school and a community partner working together to improve STEM education in Ohio – that’s an award-winning combination. Such a partnership, involving the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School in Akron and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., has garnered the Excellence in STEM Partnership Award

The award, given by the Ohio STEM Learning Network, recognizes a partnership that prioritizes a commitment to STEM education leading to positive student learning outcomes that could impact Ohio’s economic future. The STEM Excellence Awards are issued annually to teachers, leaders, and partnerships as part of the Ohio STEM Innovation Summit.

To find out how the school and the corporation work together, we contacted their representatives. Dina M. Popa is an instructional leader at the STEM High School, and Joni Fitch is the director of Community Affairs & Engagement at Goodyear. They collaborated on their answers to our questions.

Q: How did the partnership between the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) STEM High School and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. come about? What, in general, does the partnership consist of?

A: The partnership with the NIHF STEM High School and Goodyear was a natural fit. The company officially partnered with Akron Public Schools in 2020 as the named partner for the College and Career Academies at STEM High School.

Joni Fitch

Joni Fitch, director of Community Affairs & Engagement at Goodyear

Dina Popa square (2)

Dina Popa, instructional leader at the STEM High School

Q: How has Goodyear helped to incorporate the design process and PBL into school courses?

A: Goodyear has worked with the freshman team in the areas of algebra and geometry, which are incorporated into the Goodyear Store Escape Room. The Escape Room was collaboratively designed and built by Goodyear associates and the school’s ninth-grade teachers.

Goodyear also has supported the school’s curriculum in the Environmental Engineering pathway with the Spirulina problem-based learning (PBL) unit and the Mars Rover PBL unit. Both of these units have a PBL focus that highlights skills such as problem-solving, creativity, grit, self-direction, critical thinking and reflection.

Goodyear has worked alongside the school’s entire staff to develop a STEM-focused design process that is incorporated building-wide.

Spirulina is an Algae that is grown during the PBL to make photo bio-reactors to be used as either food or fuel similar to what they do at global Goodyear locations. Because the Algae is editable, at the culmination of the PBL the excess algae is turned into milkshakes that the learners can enjoy so that the excess is not wasted.

Q: Give examples of design challenges that Goodyear and the school have been involved in. How have these benefited students?

A: One of the students’ favorite design challenges each year is the creation of the Escape Room integrated with the mathematical department with standards in Algebra I and Geometry. For each unit, a new challenge is created for students that teaches skills beyond computational thinking. The added focus is on problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking and reflection.

In ninth-grade, students complete a design challenge centered on our Frontier Habits. Frontier Habits are our transferable STEM habits of mind that support STEM ideology and the engineering design process as well as soft skills needed by community employers, they include collaboration, grit, self-direction, creativity, reflection, and critical thinking. They are the basis for every classroom and lesson design.

The Frontier Habits design challenge is implemented in our ninth-grade team and focuses on habits of mind. This is part of the ninth-grade orientation and Freshman Seminar course. Goodyear associates work alongside teams of ninth-graders as they go through the challenge to hone these added STEM skills. We have a rubric that students can self-assess and rate their levels of engagement with the habits as a pre and post-reflection to the challenge.

Q: What is the school’s Senior Capstone Program and how has Goodyear been involved with it?

A: Senior Capstone is a culminating personal PBL. Students end their junior year doing a deep dive to identify a problem in the community that impacts their lives. They then utilize the design process throughout their senior year to develop a solution grounded in research that creates an innovative product or service.

Goodyear was instrumental in a collaborative session with STEM High School staff members to refine the design process for this course. The design process steps are: identify, investigate, interpret, ideate, implement and inform. Goodyear also provides mentorship and feedback throughout the senior year to the learners as they work through iterations of their product or service.S

OSLN Excellence Awards accepting nominations until Feb. 5, 2024

Q: Has Goodyear offered internships, job shadowing and/or field trips to NIHF STEM High School students? How have these been a plus for students?

A: As the school’s academy named partner, Goodyear has hosted job shadowing, field trips, teacher externships and career expos and offered internships over the past 10 years. By offering all of these options, Goodyear enhances student engagement, impacts student attendance and allows for career exploration that provides the Akron community with a skilled, trained workforce.

Q: Has Goodyear provided other resources to the school, such as equipment, experts and/or funding? Explain how this has helped the school.

A: Goodyear provides support in two areas. First, as the school’s College and Career Academy naming partner, Goodyear is committed to providing in- and out-of-classroom experiences for all students at each grade level. Goodyear associates are often embedded in classroom lessons to help showcase the various career opportunities and skills needed to be successful in the workforce. They are also well represented on the school’s Academy Advisory Board, which provides support to pathway teachers in areas such as curriculum offerings and skills needed after graduation.

Second, over the years, Goodyear has provided a grant fund for teachers to finance collaborative classroom projects supported by Goodyear associates in the classroom. These classroom projects have a PBL focus.

Q: What is the school’s Goodyear Academy of Advanced Technology & Design? How has the company been involved with this?

A: After completing the school’s Freshman Academy, STEM High School learners begin their exclusive journey at the school’s Goodyear Academy of Advanced Technology and Design. This academy offers work in the fields of biotechnology, cybersecurity and environmental engineering as part of the program’s course offerings.

Experiences include embedded Goodyear associates in the pathway courses and PBLs, career expo, industry field trips, job shadowing, design challenges and, finally, the senior Capstone projects. The company is part of the school’s College and Career Advisory Board and an officially signed naming partner with Akron Public Schools. The company’s associates work closely with school staff and administrators for each of the guaranteed experiences listed above.

Partnership No. 2

Q: What has Goodyear done to support teachers at NIHF STEM High School with professional development opportunities?

A: Goodyear has worked closely with the school’s staff members on professional development of the foundational design process as part of the school’s state STEM designation. The company has provided teacher externships to guide them in learning about STEM careers so intentional connections can be made in the classroom. These connections help build a relationship to foster a pipeline of potential future Goodyear employees.

Goodyear has also supported the school’s extracurricular opportunities through professional development in the area of robotics. Working with the school’s robotics coach to build capacity has led to several state championships and qualified teams for the World VEX Robotics Championships.

Q: How has Goodyear benefited from its partnership with the school?

A: This partnership and the intentional experiences have allowed both STEM High School and Goodyear to prepare learners for future STEM careers, providing a potential pipeline of future Goodyear associates to work and live in the Akron community.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about this partnership?

A: This partnership benefits not only the students; it also benefits the employer and community as a whole. The school staff is grateful to have a company such as Goodyear to engage in these wonderful experiences and help us build our future.

OSLN Excellence Awards accepting nominations until Feb. 5, 2024

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