MHS teams with MIT to boost STEM education

Published 5:55 am Friday, October 27, 2023

By Jordan Brooks

Two students from Middlesboro High School have a chance to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as part of a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The partnership allows MHS juniors Aieza Ahmad and Kayla Heck to participate in the MIT Beaver Works Fall 2023 Outreach Program that focuses specifically on 11th grade girls across the nation who are interested in STEM-based fields.

“We have a partnership now with MIT and that’s been facilitated through our work and partnership with Mr. John Shoffner (and) his newly created foundation called the Perseid Foundation,” said Chris Stotts, director of STEM education for Middlesboro Independent Schools. “In his experience traveling to space, he’s made a lot of connections and a lot of partners and he’s collaborated with a lot of people–and those entities are now a part of this foundation that he has–and because of that we’re able to connect to those partners.”

The Perseid Foundation is a education-facing foundation that Shoffner, a Middlesboro native, created to bring about STEAM and STEM education opportunities for students. To that end, Middlesboro was chosen to be the pilot.

Middlesboro Independent is collaborating with MIT on numerous projects. Such as creating a “Maker Space,” which is a state-of-the-art STEM lab, teachers utilizing MIT-created content and other student outreach programs.

“One of those is a fall outreach program that is designed specifically for girls who are interested in STEM education through one of their agencies called Beaver Works foundation,” said Stotts.

“Beaver Works” is a collaborative center created by the MIT School of Engineering and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The center conducts research and focuses on educational outreach programs as an avenue to address global issues through science, research and education. Among the wide array of programming is the “Girls Who Can!” STEM series designed to provide rising career-minded students with exposure to opportunities in an array of fields ranging from engineering to digital data science.

“They’ll be getting into some digital technology type things, and some coding, things that students in our area typically wouldn’t have the ability to engage with,” said Stotts. “That’s one thing we’re focusing on with our STEM initiative, is that exposure… because we’re just geographically isolated anyway, and on top of that so many of our kids just lack the opportunities to things that way.”

Ahmad and Heck will be engaged in a course titled “Many Interesting Things: For Aspiring Engineers From Transistors to Data Science.” This experience will provide the students with early exposure to the technologies that are at the forefront of the modern day digital society and how these tools connect to medical data analytics. The girls will meet virtually with MIT faculty and mentors weekly as they study elements such as Python coding, computer architecture, machine learning, computer vision, Linux operating system and more.

Each girl sees this program as providing them with skills relative to their future careers. Heck has aspirations of pursuing a career in dentistry or education, and is passionate about finding opportunities to help others. Ahmad has interest in pursuing a career in the field of business and becoming an entrepreneur, and hopes to create and foster digital businesses on her way to becoming a successful CEO.

“This is huge,” said Stotts. “Even though its two, this thing is just now getting started, to say that we have high school students involved in MIT programming, and we’re even looking at the opportunities for some of our teachers and workshops there, and bringing some MIT people here to facilitate workshops as we fill out our STEM initiative even more.”