by Gefen Kusin-Kline, Special Contributor
To compete in today’s increasingly global economy, tomorrow’s workforce needs to be highly skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the subjects that make up the STEM curriculum. That’s why Toyota, Southern Methodist University (SMU), and Dallas Independent School District (DISD) have created an initiative to ensure that students in one of the city’s most traditionally underserved communities have access to opportunities that will set them up for future success.
In collaboration with the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University, DISD is creating a new STEM-focused, PreK-8 school to serve families in West Dallas. Additionally, Plano-headquartered Toyota Motor North America is funding curricula development and teacher training via a $2 million grant from the Toyota USA Foundation. The goal of this partnership is to prepare students for the next generation of STEM jobs and to provide them with both the expertise and innovation mindset they need to thrive.
Additionally, this public-private venture hopes to address community-wide issues affecting West Dallas, making sure young people in these neighborhoods are poised for both academic success and career advancement. According to DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, “STEM jobs are the wave of the future, and Toyota and SMU’s contribution is a major investment in shaping the next generation. This is a significant shift in education, and we’re grateful to these incredible partners.”
SMU will spearhead the effort, developing curricula, incorporating input from all stakeholders, advising on the latest educational best practices, providing professional development for teachers and monitoring the program at every step. While this may be a tall order, SMU President R. Gerald Turner is confident that his team is up to the task. “Evidence-based education is the foundation for everything we do in the Simmons School,” he says, “and we look forward to the opportunity to provide resources and research that underscore the success of the school.”
Once the school opens in the fall of 2021, it will become part of the Pinkston High School feeder pattern, creating even more options for families in West Dallas with children who show an interest in and aptitude for science and technology. If all goes according to plan, this new school will become the model for similar elementary and middle schools across the country. Stephanie Knight, the dean of the Simmons School, notes that she would like to “involve the [Pinkston] feeder-pattern schools as much as we can in this, create a network so that the other elementary schools in the district are benefiting from what we are doing here.”
Toyota and SMU will also be getting nonprofits already active in West Dallas involved. The School Zone and other partners will work to address literacy, transportation and after-school care. “Collectively, our goal is to create a brighter future for students, help families become more resilient, and create a community and school model that can be replicated,” says Mike Goss, president of Toyota USA Foundation.
Thanks to its desire to develop a diverse, STEM-educated workforce pipeline, the Plano-based automaker is ideally suited to help DISD and SMU prioritize around these academic subjects. Moreover, Toyota knows firsthand how a strong STEM education can help employees flourish. As Goss observes, “We want to help increase access to opportunity, connecting students to the millions of STEM jobs that exist today, and the many more that will be created as industry advances.”
There’s data to support this favorable outlook. According to information collected by the Education Commission of the States, STEM jobs are projected to grow 13 percent in the next 10 years. Compare this to just nine percent in other fields. On average, STEM jobs also offer substantially better pay. The Pew Research Center reports that those active in STEM-related careers earn about26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts. Further, this study concludes that workers with a STEM-centric college education stand to make more even if they find employment in a non-STEM field.
By collaborating with SMU and DISD, Toyota — a recent arrival to North Texas — is looking to make a positive impact in the community it now calls home. Ultimately, this venture is also a tribute to its partners’ faith in both the talent and potential of the people who live and work in D-FW.
To learn more about how Dallas is well on its way to becoming one of the nation’s hubs for STEM careers, visit toyota.com/usa/community.