Breaking ground: Global Impact STEM Academy expands its vision and its reach

By Lucy Bryan

One of the challenges of preparing students for careers in STEM is keeping up with rapid changes in technology and shifting workforce demands. Global Impact STEM Academy, an independent STEM school in Springfield, Ohio, offers an inspiring example of how STEM programs can grow and evolve alongside the industries their students plan to enter. 

Over the last decade, Global Impact has expanded its offerings, increased its enrollment, and honed its vision, fueled by strategic partnerships and a commitment to excellence. Recently, it broke ground on a new Upper Academy facility on the Clark State College campus. 

We reached out to Josh Jennings, founding director of Global Impact STEM Academy, to discuss how the school is evolving, innovating, and expanding its reach. 

For readers who aren’t familiar with Global Impact STEM Academy, can you describe who you are and what you do?

Global Impact STEM Academy offers an educational experience firmly rooted in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in Clark County, Ohio. Our curriculum has a distinct focus on agricultural biotechnology, food science, and environmental science, and it provides a strong foundation for careers in the food, fuel, and fiber industries.

Headshot of Josh JenningsAt Global Impact, we go beyond conventional teaching methods. Agricultural industries provide us with a platform for immersive, cross-disciplinary, problem-solving, and project-based learning initiatives. We actively engage industry professionals in our programming, benefiting from their financial support, guidance in curriculum development, and ability to provide hands-on experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. Our governing board, enriched with strong representation from business and industry partners, provides invaluable advice and oversight.

In addition to our industry-focused curriculum, Global Impact is committed to providing diverse post-secondary pathways for our students. Through strategic partnerships—notably with Clark State College—we offer opportunities for mastery learning and early college enrollment. The average Global Impact student graduates with 40 college credit hours, and about one-third graduate with an associate degree from Clark State.

Since opening our doors in the fall of 2013, initially on the Clark State College campus with just 50 ninth-grade students, Global Impact has undergone remarkable growth and transformation. Following extensive renovation, we relocated in 2015 to the former Springfield High School, now known as The Dome: Springfield’s Center of Innovation. Phase two of our expansion, completed in the fall of 2017, coincided with the addition of grades seven and eight to our roster. Today, Global Impact draws students from five different counties and 20 distinct school districts, serving as a beacon of educational excellence in our region.

You recently broke ground on an “Upper Academy” facility. Tell us about this second campus and how it will expand the reach of Global Impact STEM Academy.

We plan to open our second campus, called the “Upper Academy,” at Clark State College in fall 2025. This marks a significant milestone in the growth and influence of Global Impact. 

Currently, our main location has limited capacity, capped at approximately 125 students per grade level. However, the demand for enrollment consistently exceeds our available seats. The Upper Academy will serve as a solution to this challenge, allowing us to welcome more students and broaden our reach within the community. 

The new facility will house grades 10 to 12, allowing us not only to enroll more students in our current programs but also to begin offering grade six following the completion of the Upper Academy.

Global Impact celebrated its 10th anniversary last year—and you’ve been there from the beginning. How did what you experienced and learned in that time inform the vision for the Upper Academy?

By 2017, Global Impact surpassed the original metrics outlined in our initial STEM Application from late 2012. Encouraged by this success, our governing board embarked on a strategic planning process during the 2017-2018 academic year, setting objectives for expansion, professional development, and strengthening ties with our agricultural industry partners.

During a significant work session in March 2020, I presented several growth opportunities to the board, one of which included a potential partnership with Clark State College to establish the Upper Academy. However, our plans faced an unexpected challenge as we shifted to providing quality STEM education virtually amidst a global pandemic.

Throughout the following year, I continued discussions with Dr. Jo Alice Blondin, president of Clark State College. In March 2021, I formally proposed the Upper Academy concept to our governing board, seeking approval to pursue this initiative. After feasibility studies and discussions with Clark State, the project got the green light.

The Upper Academy will address multiple objectives:

  1.  It will offer additional space for growth and expansion;
  2.  it will provide high school students with increased access to college classes by situating itself on Clark State’s campus;
  3. and it will enhance our ability to connect with and support our student body effectively by putting administrative and support staff at the same location as students.

The significance of the Upper Academy extends beyond its physical structure. It will also offer a psychological benefit to students who have not yet achieved college readiness. Namely, it will help students transition to a post-secondary environment, even if they aren’t yet ready for college-level courses. Currently, students who don’t meet college-readiness criteria remain at The Dome while their peers pursue college coursework at Clark State. However, by offering non-college classes at Clark State, the Upper Academy will immerse these students in a college environment alongside their peers, fostering a sense of belonging and enabling them to take advantage of non-degree certification programs offered by the community college.

Your school has a deep commitment to experiential learning. How is the new facility set up to support “learning by doing”? What kinds of STEM or interdisciplinary projects will that space make possible?

The Upper Academy is designed to integrate seamlessly with Clark State College’s existing campus, blending traditional classroom settings with cutting-edge experiential learning environments. The newly-constructed space is purposefully designed to foster hands-on learning and the acquisition of advanced technical skills, particularly within agriculture-related programs.

The facility will offer state-of-the-art science labs, tailored to various disciplines, including bioresearch, food science, and environmental science. Additionally, there will be flexible lab spaces equipped with a diverse array of tools and equipment to support experiential learning across subjects. A greenhouse and outdoor learning spaces will provide further opportunities for practical, real-world engagement.

Moreover, the partnership with Clark State College will allow students to explore interdisciplinary projects in areas such as aerospace and aviation technology. The combined resources of the Upper Academy and Clark State College will foster a dynamic environment, primed for innovation and holistic skill development.

The Upper Academy is being built on the campus of Clark State College. How did that come to pass? And how might that location benefit your students?

The establishment of the Upper Academy on the Clark State College campus is the culmination of a longstanding partnership. Since our inception in 2013, our mission has been intricately intertwined with Clark State College, reflecting a shared commitment to educational excellence and community empowerment.

The decision to locate the Upper Academy on the Clark State campus arose from a desire to enrich collaboration and synergy between the two educational institutions. By locating our academy there, we aim to create a dynamic ecosystem where students can seamlessly transition from high school to college, accessing comprehensive educational resources and support services. We hope that, by expanding opportunities for students, we can impact the workforce in our immediate community and ultimately across the state. 

Another goal of this partnership is to cultivate a culture of innovation and interdisciplinary learning. We want to empower our students to tackle complex challenges and thrive in an ever-evolving global landscape. By leveraging the collective expertise and resources of both institutions, we can better address the unique needs and aspirations of each student, equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to succeed in college and beyond.

Beyond students having better access to College Credit Plus classes, do you see potential for other collaborations between Global Impact’s Upper Academy and Clark State?

The potential collaborations between Global Impact’s Upper Academy and Clark State are diverse and far-reaching. By leveraging each other’s strengths and resources, both institutions can enrich the educational experiences of their students and contribute positively to the broader community.

One avenue for collaboration could involve students from Clark State’s education programs participating in observations, student teaching, or internships at the Upper Academy. This would provide invaluable hands-on experience to aspiring educators while allowing Upper Academy students to benefit from mentorship and diverse teaching styles.

Moreover, Upper Academy classes could potentially use Clark State’s college facilities, exposing students to advanced equipment and resources and providing interdisciplinary learning opportunities. We’re already in conversation with Clark State about using space and resources on campus. 

Clark State might also be able to support us in developing new industry-related programming. We are particularly interested in expanding our offerings to align with evolving workforce demands and technological advancements. 

Additionally, Upper Academy students could be encouraged to participate in campus clubs and organizations at Clark State. Engaging in extracurricular activities beyond the Academy’s walls could foster social integration, leadership development, and a sense of community among students.

This partnership will also make it possible to hold events and activities outside of the regular school day that showcase both institutions, furthering their exposure in the region and strengthening community ties.

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As you previously mentioned, moving grades 10, 11, and 12 to the new facility will allow you to begin offering sixth grade at your current campus. How might students benefit from experiencing Impact Academy’s approach to STEM education a year earlier? Can you tell us anything about what the 6th grade curriculum might entail? 

Expanding Global Impact’s STEM education to include sixth grade offers numerous benefits. One significant advantage is the opportunity for students to engage with Global Impact’s unique instructional methods and curriculum earlier in their academic careers. Early exposure to hands-on learning and real-world application will allow them to develop essential skills and mindsets crucial for success in STEM fields. By integrating aspects of the agriculture industry into the curriculum, we offer students paths for grasping the practical relevance of STEM concepts.

Moreover, the inclusion of sixth grade will enable Global Impact to instill our cultural values and ethos in students at a younger age. We want to equip them with the values, perspectives, and skills necessary for success not only in their academic endeavors but also in their personal and professional lives, such as being an effective communicator and collaborator. 

The sixth-grade curriculum at Global Impact will build upon the principles of experiential, inquiry-based, project-based, and problem-based learning that are already integral to the school’s approach. Through hands-on projects, inquiry-driven investigations, and collaborative problem-solving activities, students will deepen their understanding of STEM concepts while honing critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork skills.

Additionally, the curriculum will emphasize mastery learning, ensuring that students have the opportunity to fully grasp and master each concept before progressing to more advanced material. This approach fosters a solid foundation of knowledge and skills, setting students up for continued success as they advance through Global Impact’s program and beyond.

What are your hopes for Global Impact’s next decade?  

Over the past decade, Global Impact has gleaned valuable insights that underscore the necessity of patience and strategic planning. As we look ahead to the next decade, our aspirations are multifaceted, encompassing both physical expansion and programmatic innovation.

The upcoming year and a half will be dedicated to meticulous planning and development as we prepare to extend our educational offerings to the 6th grade. This expansion represents not only a quantitative growth in our student body but also a qualitative shift in our school’s ethos and culture. Our approach will be deliberate, with a focus on gradual and sustainable growth, particularly as we transition into our new facility on Clark State’s campus.

In terms of programming, Global Impact is continuously evolving to meet the demands of emerging industries and community needs. Building on our established niche, we are expanding into the realms of aerospace and aviation technology, recognizing the symbiotic relationship between those sectors and advancements in precision farming technologies. Responding to input from local leaders and stakeholders, we have introduced courses such as “Foundations of Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” equipping students with practical skills and industry certifications in drone technology.

To bolster our educational offerings, we are investing in instructor training and exploring collaborations with institutions like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to potentially offer college credit for our courses. Such initiatives would not only enhance our curriculum but also allow us to forge new partnerships with other educational institutions and industry stakeholders, advancing our vision of becoming a nexus for economic and workforce development within the region.

Moreover, our ambitions extend beyond the confines of our current infrastructure. The completion of the Upper Academy building project marks just the beginning of what we envision as a multi-phased construction endeavor. We are actively exploring avenues to support further expansion beyond the initial phase. As we increase enrollment in lower grades, we need to be prepared to support those students at the upper academy without straining Clark State’s resources.

Looking ahead, the envisioned second phase of our construction project would provide the infrastructure necessary to support our expanding curriculum and training initiatives. By leveraging synergies and embracing collaborative opportunities, Global Impact is poised to make a lasting impact, not only within our school community but also across broader regional and economic spheres.


About this piece: This interview was edited by Lucy Bryan for the Ohio STEM Learning Network. Read more about the author and her work at:

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