STEM: Unlocking Future Potential


    The STEM acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, but represents so much more: a way of thinking, technical skills, and a range of disciplines. 


    Photos from left to right: courtesy of  Minnesota Zoo (photos 1&2), Natural Science Academy, Greg Helgeson

    According to the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA), a nonprofit association consisting of more than 300 technology companies and organizations throughout the state, current projections predict a serious shortfall of high tech workers in the state and in high-tech fields. 

    If the United States wants to remain competitive in STEM fields, we need to take action. Not only is there a projected increase in the number of new workers needed, but also a need to replace workers who will be retiring in the next 10 years.

    In order to meet this need, a number of strategies are being pursued in Minnesota and across the country. Short-term solutions include attracting STEM talent from around the world to work and teach here, and attracting and training professionals from other business sectors to work in high-tech fields. A longer-term approach involves expanding STEM career pathways for students at younger and younger ages and encouraging students from under-represented populations to consider STEM careers. 

    To address the current demand and future need; educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and corporations are partnering to provide an ever-expanding array of programs and initiatives, including the getSTEM web portal, which connects business professionals to educators. MHTA also provides support to college students through the SciTechsperience internship program, and STEM scholarships to undergraduate students studying STEM at post-secondary schools in the state.

    STEM is everywhere and shapes our everyday experiences. Investing in STEM education and initiatives is crucial to the future of the U.S., the future of Minnesota, and the future of our children.  

    Minnesota Zoo’s Math and Science (ZooMS) Program

    STEM concepts applied to real-world situations in zoo setting 


    What the program is: With generous financial support from the 3M Foundation, the Minnesota Zoo’s Math and Science (ZooMS) Program was launched in 2012 to provide teachers and students with opportunities to apply science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts to real-world situations.

    Through Engineering FOR Animals (exhibit design), Engineering FROM Animals (biomimicry), and Engineering BY Animals (animals as engineers), students learn about and engage in observation, inquiry, problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and teamwork either on-site or in the classroom—all skills used by Minnesota Zoo conservationists, zookeepers, and exhibit designers.


    Why a STEM program? Studies indicate that the majority of jobs in the future will require STEM experience. At the same time, fewer college students are choosing degrees in these disciplines, and K-12 student competence in math and science is lagging. The ZooMS program was created to link children’s natural affinity for animals and zoos with their innate curiosity about how things work.

    Students and teachers are engaged in zoo-based investigation and problem solving through STEM-focused teacher professional development workshops, zoo-based STEM activities and residencies, and long-term integrated STEM projects like the ZooMS Design Challenge (students and teachers tackle a real zoo-based problem). While most ZooMS components are tailored for schools, many camps and family programs inspired by the program are offered throughout the year, with more opportunities to come in the near future.


    The ultimate goal of this program is to … serve the mission of the Minnesota Zoo to connect people, animals, and the natural world to save wildlife via high-quality STEM programming and resources.

    When kids learn about animals and the environment, the hope is that they’ll take action on behalf of their finned, furry, and feathered friends. The Minnesota Zoo is taking a very unique approach to engaging the next generation and inspiring them to develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills essential to saving wildlife today and well into the future.

    For more information, visit or call 952-431-9243. 


    Photos courtesy of Minnesota Zoo

    Natural Science Academy

    Academic achievement through study and exploration of the natural world


    History: Natural Science Academy (NSA) opened in 2008 as Michael Frome Academy, named after environmentalist, author, and conservationist Michael Frome. The school’s founders were inspired by Dr. Frome, author Richard Louv of “No Child in the Woods,” and proponents of the “No Child Left Inside” movement, touting the benefits of getting plugged-in kids outside and connected to the natural world. The name of the school later changed to Natural Science Academy to better reflect its mission, and moved to St. Paul Park when it outgrew its original space in Woodbury.


    Need & Purpose: Traditional public and private schools offer occasional outdoor field trips, but occasional outings are not enough for students to develop an understanding of the natural world around them and a desire to preserve its integrity. NSA is—at its heart—a school dedicated to environmental education. It is innovative in its utilization of integrated, interdisciplinary, inquiry-based environmental studies. It is one of very few elementary schools that teaches science every day, emphasizing hands-on, minds-on “learning by doing” science instruction.

    NSA uses the STEAM model, incorporating the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math while integrating liberal, social, and creative arts. Students are taught that learning opportunities are everywhere, not just in a school building. The goal is the fullest possible development of the whole child—mind, body, and spirit.

    For more information, visit or call 651-925-5050.  


    Photo courtesy of Natural Science Academy

    Minnetonka Public Schools District 276

    STEM programs prepare students for jobs of the future

    Ranked among the best: Minnetonka High School has been ranked among the Best High Schools in America by U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. They are one of  two Minnesota high schools ranked among the nation’s best for STEM education. Students learn STEM concepts throughout their K-12 educational career with robotics, geocaching, computer design, applied physics, and forensic science. Project Leads the Way, a pre-engineering program for high school students, is also available.

    Minnetonka student achievement—in all grades—is consistently strong. Students accelerate in both math and science. The average fifth grader in Minnetonka performs on par with 11th grade national norms. In middle school, students can complete three years of science in two years, prepared for AP Physics in their first year of high school. Minnetonka students took first in the nation in grades 3 – 8 in the 2015 Continental Math League competition.


    Technology: Minnetonka is a national leader in classroom technology use, providing students with innovative learning opportunities. Students have a long history of enjoying hands-on science, technology and math instruction, resulting in outstanding test scores on state and national assessments. As a national leader in using educational technology as an accelerator, the District has been recognized twice by both the National School Boards Association, and was recently recognized for exemplary implementation of a technology initiative with the Apple Distinguished Program award.

    All students in grades 5 – 12 are issued an iPad as part of the district’s 1:1 initiative. Cloud-based computing supports collaboration, online assessments, and a digital homework cycle—working toward a paperless classroom. In addition, Minnetonka became the first district in Minnesota (2014) to adopt a computer coding curriculum in grades K-5 (one of the fastest growing professions in the world), and after launching the state’s first high school Coder Dojo Club, students may now pursue both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Computer Science in high school.

    For more information about District 276, visit


    Photos courtesy of Greg Helgeson


    Ensuring the accuracy of lab test results around the world 

    Who they are: Microbiologics, based in St. Cloud, was founded in 1971 providing laboratory testing services for water sources and food products. A short time later they started manufacturing and selling freeze-dried bacteria for quality control testing, starting with just six microorganism strains in a single format. Today, they have over 900 different microorganism strains and 20 distinct, user-friendly formats in their portfolio. Over the years, they’ve grown from a small, regional manufacturer to a global leader in the industry. 


    What they do: In a nutshell, Microbiologics produces practical, user-friendly, quality control biomaterials for clinical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, food, and water testing—selling to microbiology laboratories in more than 130 countries. They take specific strains of bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites, viruses, and other biomaterials and develop them into stable, easy-to-use formats. The products they make are used to ensure the accuracy of a lab’s test results, directly impacting the health and safety of patients and consumers around the world. 


    STEM Internships: STEM students at Midwestern colleges and universities can benefit from Microbiologics’ robust internship program, providing students an opportunity to learn from established and knowledgeable industry professionals and gain real-world experience. The company was recently recognized by the Star Tribune as a “Top 150 Workplace in Minnesota.”


    Future outlook: The future of microbiology will most definitely involve molecular diagnostic technologies, spurring Microbiologics to recently launch a new molecular division. With an ongoing initiative dedicated to research and development, they are partnering with manufacturers to provide custom-designed internal or external controls for the development, validation, and monitoring of these exciting technologies.

    For more information about the internship program or the company, visit


    Photos courtesy of Microbiologies