Almost simultaneously, the Wilson County School system was named 2nd in digital learning and a new business that enriches STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education opened in the heart of Mt. Juliet.
Conveniently, Mt. Juliet's new STEM Builders enrichment school opened two weeks ago across from West Wilson Middle School.
On the heels of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's 2012 STEM initiative, enthusiasm to ignite passion in both girls and boys in this ever growing, lucrative and necessary future workforce has exploded in the last few years.
Susheel Chanda can't help but get excited when he talks about his new venture in STEM Builders. He's beyond smart in the field and has 10-plus years of experience in IT. He spent years at Bridgestone at their automating manufacturing process center using AGV (Automated Guided Vehicles). He then free-lanced his expertise at a health care company. However, his desire to introduce children to the industry is now his full time gig with his new school that infuses tons of fun in their varied STEM-based curriculum.
"Now, my passion is teaching technology to kids," he said.
Chanda was exploring different options to make this dream come true and found STEM Builders. He knew it was an immediate match. Plus, his two boys, 10 and 6, gave him the drive to mentor youngsters and prepare them for the future, in a fun and collaborative way where learning comes naturally with hands-on projects.
"STEM Builder's mission is to ignite passion and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and math in every student," Chanda said. "We provide education by bringing STEM to life in a fun and interactive way. Our curriculum is aimed to develop life skills and improve students' knowledge."
Chanda's wife, Bindu, is a partner in the new business that already has created a buzz with parents who want to expand their children's horizons in a field that sometimes intimidates kids.
Chanda said in today's competitive society, it is important for our children to think outside the box. He said along with a school education, to be successful in life these days, collaboration and teamwork are key skills. His STEM program provides a combination of STEM, Legos, robotics, math and fun.
It started out for Chandra when he wanted to entice his boys into robotics coding. He decided to enter a Legos League tournament last year. He got some other kids to join their team and ended up with seven kits to build.
"It was a ten week program and the kids responded so well," this dad said. "They did it all and I was their guide. Anybody can do it and it's not difficult."
Apparently, Chandra is a perfect coach in Lego robot building because his team went on to place 9th at the state level of the fun competition and snagged 3rd place in the "strategy and innovation" category. This solidified his desire to offer classes to budding innovators.
"I did so much research and realized this type of extracurricular teaching wasn't offered that much in the Mt. Juliet area," he said. "I think Mt. Juliet Christian had some classes and I know the Wilson County School system is really into STEM. There are so many children in Mt. Juliet and I see so much potential."
Chanda said his program is structured in a way no child is left behind. It's aimed for elementary and middle school students.
"It's hands on fun, creative and collaborative," he said. "Every day there's something different."
For example, they might talk about what's on the plant Mars and design and build a Lego rover, together, and run across problems and collaboratively figure out a solution.
"We teach basic programing and coding," said Chanda.
Generally, the program offers classes for kids ages 6 to 14. The "junior expert" classes are for those 7 to 9 and is about 80 to 90 hours of instruction. There's software, of course the blocks, and tons of video to explore. The 8 to 10 age category pairs two kids and they make a robot together, complete with documentation and project presentation.
The gist of STEM Builders is kids learn team work, problem solving, critical and logical thinking, innovation, and most importantly, a "passion and love for STEM," Chandra said.
Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Brian Abston attended the recent open house.
"I'm very impressed and think this is a fantastic thing for our city," he said. "It is great to have advanced education choices for our youth. Especially something that is hands on and fun while learning."
Some classes to look into include Robotics for Kids where Chanda and his team teach Lego robotics. Students learn how to program robots with various program techniques. These classes are broken into age groups. There's also STEM Builders Enrichment classes which helps improve children's life essential skills, and, Robotics Birthday Parties. There's also a plan for math tutoring in the summer.
Chanda is in the process of reaching out to the local school system with hopes to bring his passion to the after school programs.
"It's about kids learning at all levels," Chanda said with excitement. "STEM is our reality and our everyday life. There are robots that vacuum and clean and build cars. STEM is our future and we need these skills. I'm so excited about providing this opportunity in Mt. Juliet!"
STEM Builders is located at 854 North Mt. Juliet Road.