We hear about the widespread cases of Ebola in West Africa (21,797 cases; 8675 deaths) and in our own country the United States (4 cases; 1 death) (CDC-2014 Ebola Outbreak Case Counts), and it can be so overwhelming to think about that most of us just prefer not to. However, if we put on our scientists’ glasses and white lab coats, we will see a flurry of activity, innovation, science, technology, engineering and math working tremendously hard, every day in multiple countries to eradicate the Ebola virus forever.
Just think of all of the laboratories, pharmaceutical, industrial design and hospital supply companies along with disinfection services who are working in concert to supply Doctors Without Borders, Partners In Health, Centers for Disease Control and other organizations to arm the brave healthcare workers and volunteers that are entering into the “hot zones” everyday. There are blood transfusions from survivors which currently the World Health Organization recommends as the best treatment for Ebola patients. There are promising drugs that are a combination of lab-created antibodies that cling to the Ebola virus and prevent it from reproducing or the controversial ingestion of colloidal nano-silver as an antimicrobial agent in fighting the infection.
One of the best “weapons” yet in the fight against Ebola is the Ebola Robot Exterminator named Gigi. (Now we’re talking!) Since the virus can survive for up to six days on solid surfaces, 250 U.S. hospitals have introduced the virus-killing piece of technology that decontaminates a room where an infected patient has died, in under 10 minutes using ultraviolet light. The U.S. National Institutes of Health just awarded a research firm a $2.9 million grant to develop a diagnostic kit that will detect the disease in only 15 minutes. This early detection could save literally hundreds of lives. Or, how about the app WhatsApp, which is the most widely used chat app in West Africa? It has an alert service that uses audio, text and images to deliver public service information about the disease and the outbreak spread.
This, ladies and gentlemen is STEM on the ground! This takes all of the chemistry classes, physics experiments, robotics competitions and biology labs you were allowed to explore only in the confines of the classroom and catapults them into present-day reality. Concept Schools, which are STEM-focused schools with a heavy emphasis on real-world experiences and service to others, encourage and prepare students to become the next generation of engineers and scientists we will need to tackle these catastrophic threats to our very existence. And speaking of service, while the robots and nano-technology can be exciting innovations, if serving others is not an integral part of their design, they become hollow endeavors.
Throughout the network of Concept Schools, in addition to providing this STEM-focused curriculum, we encourage students from middle school up to high school to
become involved in the robotics program, MathCON, STEMCON and our annual Concept Schools’ Science and Engineering Fair (CONSEF). In the robotics program, students compete in local challenges, regionals, super-regionals and world championships! In MathCON, over 250 schools enter and more than 7,000 students participate—with the top 800 students competing in the finals at a major research university. STEMCON and CONSEF span over 3 days at the seat of one of our network flagship schools: Horizon Science Academy- Cleveland—a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School. This event draws educators, STEM industry leaders, students from across the Midwest, the business community and researchers to experience presentations, robotics demonstrations and science project judging. Students have multiple categories in which to win and ALL students are acknowledged for participating.
At individual local school sites, students volunteer over and above district and state required service hours to work in their communities and give back. Chicago Math & Science Academy alone coordinates 10-12 student-service projects a year. There are food and clothing drives, recycling programs, activities designed for the seniors in the communities who have no family left or may feel lonely in nursing homes. One of our Ohio schools, Horizon Science Academy – Lorain, organized “SOCKTOBER,” which was a drive to collect socks, clothes, toys and books for homeless shelters in the area. It was headed up by first graders—FIRST graders!—and was a huge success. They ended up collecting 1383 pairs of socks and along with the other items, and $100 in cash! These are small but powerful experiences for our young people to have, and they can plant the seed for a lifelong commitment to serving.
THAT’S what makes STEM come to life. The technology and innovation, yes, but also that connection to other human beings that we work to foster in our students that will push them to maybe one day travel to West Africa and fight a deadly disease, like a young nurse from New York did this week (Watch New York Times video here). They could also contribute right here at home. There are limitless possibilities for STEM to hit the ground running!
Concept Schools is a 501(c)3 non-profit charter school management organization with 29 charter schools in 30 campuses in 7 Midwest states.