Each month throughout this school year, the learning experience for fifth graders at Fairforest Elementary School in Spartanburg has be enhanced by educational visits from STEM professionals in the area whose disciplines coordinate with the concepts the students are studying at the time of each presentation. Why?
Because Caroline Daly ’19, assistant director of the Shucker Leadership Institute’s Leadership Team , consulted with educators in an effort to identify a specific educational need in the greater community.
“My sister is a teacher (at Fairforest), and I was talking with her about what would be most beneficial to her students,” Daly said. “And she said that students having someone to look up to . . . is really important to their development, and that translates to their work in the classroom. Figuring out an impactful way to get kids excited about STEM possibilities kind of evolved from there.”
Fairforest is a Title 1 school, which means the Department of Education provides supplemental funding to meet the needs of its high population of at-risk and low-income students. Fairforest is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) accredited school with an ongoing mission of developing STEM-ready students who will be better prepared to pursue STEM studies in the future, and the evolution Daly referred to was in reference to her Shucker Leadership Institute (SLI) Challenge Project.
Required of all Sophomore Fellows to complete the two-year program, participation in a Leadership Challenge Project (LCP) gives students the opportunity to apply what they learn as Freshman Fellows toward positively affecting a specific problem identified in the community. In Daly’s case, she appreciated the benefits she received from her STEM-focused education at The Academy for the Arts, Science, and Technology (AAST) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and she wanted to design a program that would get students interested in STEM careers. After talking with her sister, Brittany (Furman ’12), she realized the importance of inspiring students at a young age. If their imaginations about the future could be ignited early, they would be better able to chart a course for success.
“I went to a STEM high school, so STEM was something that was always important to me,” Daly, a neuroscience major explained. “STEM education is on the rise, especially in South Carolina.” LCPs are not completed alone. Leadership requires working with a team, and Daly acquired hers by presenting her vision to other fellows. Furman sophomores Madeline East, Matt Hogg, Noah Vieira, Marina Sorial, and Craig Beckner came aboard after being impressed, and the team meets every two weeks.
“Students pitched an idea, and from there (SLI Director) Kim Keefer decided which areas were most beneficial,” East, a health sciences and Spanish major from Memphis, Tenn., said. “Caroline’s was the most interesting because it was about mentoring, and that’s something that’s really important to me and probably something I can relate to the most. I am someone who values education . . . I chose Furman because I wanted to work hard, and I think it’s important for kids to start at an early age to have this idea of how important education is, and the higher you go, the more opportunities you’re going to have.”
Each of the team members is tasked with finding at least one speaker, and that nearly year-long commitment is what sets this LCP apart according to Keefer. “Their project has multiple components to it,” she said. “They are not just going out to do something focused on one day or one event or even one week. They are actually stretching it out over the course of the year.”
East volunteered to land a zoologist from the Greenville Zoo who will bring animals to the classrooms, and Daly secured a real estate developer from Hughes Development Corporation. “Chandler Thompson came in to talk to students about the importance of planning, teamwork, and what it means to work with other people,” Daly shared. “These ideas strategically crossed into their science curriculum.” Another speaker she secured was Furman Farm Director Bruce Adams who spoke to students about the science of farming.
Already, however, the team is learning to deal with adversity. “We’ve hit several dead ends with people not willing to devote time in the middle of a workday to come and speak to students,” Daly said. “You just reach out, cross your fingers, and hope that people are interested.” But, on the flip side, Fairforest has been eager to work with the Furman students, and that collaboration has maximized the benefit for the kids.
“Organization is definitely a big part of the success of the project, working to match up their curriculum to the speakers you’re going to bring in,” Daly explained. “They have a lot of input on that side.”
Daly hopes to go to Medical School and work in a pediatric specialty. She plans to volunteer at Greenville Memorial Hospital and currently volunteers as a mentor at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School. She credits Shucker Leadership Institute with preparing her to take big steps with her life. “For all of freshman year we are working on our leadership skills; we are working on our networking skills, and those are all used throughout this process,” she said. “We also talk about root causes in the community and not looking to just put a band aid on something but actually looking to make a difference . . . Coming into Furman I hadn’t heard much about Shucker Leadership, but I heard the word leadership and figured that was probably something I would be interested in. I applied for it, not knowing much about it, and I am so happy I did because Shucker has been very formative during my time at Furman.”