PNC Foundation Makes $150,000 Grant to Innovate Kentucky

When a challenge is made, WKU is never one to shy away. The University is now one step closer to fulfilling a challenge grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation, thanks to PNC Foundation’s generosity and commitment to education.

The PNC Foundation, through its Grow Up Great program, has awarded WKU a $150,000 grant to support Innovate Kentucky and early childhood education. “PNC offers leadership, advocacy, funding, volunteers and educational resources because we believe that an investment in our children now makes good economic sense and plants the seeds for the dynamic workforce of tomorrow,” said Chuck Denny, Regional President of PNC Bank, Louisville. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)
The PNC Foundation, through its Grow Up Great program, has awarded WKU a $150,000 grant to support Innovate Kentucky and early childhood education. “PNC offers leadership, advocacy, funding, volunteers and educational resources because we believe that an investment in our children now makes good economic sense and plants the seeds for the dynamic workforce of tomorrow,” said Chuck Denny, Regional President of PNC Bank, Louisville. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

The PNC Foundation, through its Grow Up Great program, has awarded WKU a $150,000 grant to support Innovate Kentucky and early childhood education. Founded by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., PNC Grow Up Great and PNC Crezca con Éxito form a bilingual, $350 million, multi-year initiative that began in 2004 to help prepare children – particularly underserved children – from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

“PNC offers leadership, advocacy, funding, volunteers and educational resources because we believe that an investment in our children now makes good economic sense and plants the seeds for the dynamic workforce of tomorrow,” said Chuck Denny, Regional President of PNC Bank, Louisville.

Through Grow Up Great, PNC emphasizes the importance of the first five years of life, which research has shown are critical to long-term achievement, by helping families, educators and community partners provide innovative opportunities that enhance learning and development in a child’s early years.

“Since the inception of Grow Up Great, approximately 1.5 million at-risk preschool children have been served through grants and innovative programs emphasizing math, science, the arts and financial education for young children,” Denny said.

“Getting a good start is the key to doing well in school,” said Dr. Julia Roberts, Executive Director of The Center for Gifted Studies and the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky.

Innovate Kentucky, a partnership of The Center for Gifted Studies, the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky, the WKU Honors College and the WKU Innovation Center, seeks to inspire students of all ages to get involved with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but thus far its programming has been aimed at students elementary school age and older. Now the initiative has identified an opportunity to reach children at an even earlier age through the Grow Up Great program.

“The importance is highlighted by the name of PNC Bank’s project title – Grow Up Great,” Dr. Roberts said. “Today there is a major focus on the education of young children.”

Innovate Kentucky is built on the premise that an enthusiasm for the STEM disciplines and the development of an innovative mindset must begin well before the age of 5. Parents and educators must develop a child’s creativity through hands-on, minds-on activities that also encourage the child to be curious about the world around them. Through the PNC grant, The Center for Gifted Studies will develop videos that can be used by parents and educators as guidance in working with their children to develop higher level thinking.

“The future of America’s job marketplace will be defined by STEM,” Denny said. “Kentucky has not risen to the challenge of producing the qualified individuals need to embrace that future.”

Representatives of WKU and PNC, including Dr. Gary Ransdell, Dr. Julia Roberts and Chuck Denny, got together for a group photo after the Jan. 15 grant announcement. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

Kentucky alone will need to fill 74,000 STEM jobs by 2018, yet only 12 percent of the bachelor’s degrees conferred in the state are in STEM fields. The Department of Early Education and Care’s 2011 report STEM Education and EEC’s Educator Provider Support System states that early exposure to STEM supports children’s overall academic growth, develops early critical thinking and reasoning skills and enhances later interest in STEM study and careers.

“Incorporating STEM in early childhood education and out of school-time settings taps into children’s natural curiosity and sense of wonder,” Denny said. “STEM education broadens children’s experiences and understanding of the human-made and natural world around them.”

Innovate Kentucky’s goal is to increase the awareness of the importance of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Innovate Kentucky has sponsored classes at VAMPY (a three-week summer program for middle and high school students) that focus on problem solving and creative/critical thinking. Innovate Kentucky has also sponsored a Winter term colloquium on entrepreneurship for students at the Gatton Academy and the Honors College.

Another initiative, IdeaFestival Bowling Green, will be held Feb. 28. “The focus of this day is that it is all about ideas,” Dr. Roberts said. Nine speakers will present for 20 minutes each with opportunities for the audience to ask questions.  One keynote speaker from Disney and Pixar will speak about creativity and innovation.

“PNC Grow Up Great is an investment in the future,” Denny said. “Extensive research indicates that the returns on investments in high-quality early education and school readiness initiatives are significant and long lasting – impacting our children, our society and the health of our economy for generations to come.”

Innovate Kentucky has also launched a public relations campaign that includes a website containing videos and other content, such as career prospects within STEM disciplines and STEM lesson plans for teachers at any grade level. The Innovate Kentucky brand will continue to be promoted through social media channels, a billboard campaign and community-based sessions to better establish a culture that values innovation and STEM.

The grant from PNC is helping meet the match for the $500,000 challenge grant the James Graham Brown Foundation made in 2011 for Innovate Kentucky.

IdeaFestival Bowling Green Promises Creativity and Innovation

IFBG LogoCreativity and innovation will be on display February 28 at the Downing Student Union Auditorium as Innovate Kentucky hosts the inaugural IdeaFestival Bowling Green. The one-day festival features nine of Kentucky’s brightest innovators plus keynote speaker Bill Capodagli, who will present Dreams and Dreamers: How to Innovate Like Walt Disney and the Pixarians.

“From the beginning Innovate Kentucky has wanted to host a speaker series on WKU’s campus,” said Josh Raymer, Executive Administrator of Innovate Kentucky. “When we found out IdeaFestival was looking to expand across Kentucky, we saw a chance to merge two goals into an exciting new event that showcases Kentucky’s innovation.”

IdeaFestival is held annually in Louisville and is described as “a celebration for the intellectually curious.” National thought-leaders from a wide range of disciplines speak to sold-out crowds during the three-day event. IdeaFestival branched out in 2013 with IF Lexington, a two-day event that led to the creation of IdeaFestival Bowling Green.

Kris Kimel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation and the founder of IdeaFestival, said the theme of IFBG is relevant now more than it’s ever been.  “IF Bowling Green is delving even deeper into the IdeaFestival mantra of Stay Curious though its twin themes of creativity and innovation, elements that are the new currency for success regardless of ‘what you do,’” he explained.

Creativity and innovation can be found in the behind-the-scenes magic at Pixar, which is the focus of the keynote presentation. Dreams and Dreamers is described as “a tour of the most innovative, creative organization in the world. You’ll learn how to look at the world through a child’s eyes, how to believe in your team, how to jump in and try something different, how to create your own corporate playground, and more.”

The nine session speakers are all superb examples of the innovation that is happening in Kentucky. Speakers from Hitcents, Fruit of the Loom, Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Alltech, Connected Nation, and Kentucky Space will address topics from product innovation to satellite design to economic collaboration. Dana Bowers, founder of iPay Technologies, will explore her entrepreneurial journey and urge the dreamers in the crowd to start their own businesses. Chris Young and Andrew Swanson are the director and executive producer, respectively, of a Kickstarter-funded TV pilot called Alone Down There and will explain how a TV show gets made in 2014. Kim Huston, author of Small Town Sexy, will touch on the movement back toward smaller towns like Bardstown, KY, which was named the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” by USA Today and Rand McNally.

The festival will have several interactive features, including question and answer panels at the end of each session where participants can tweet or text questions and a large mural created by artist Andee Rudloff that will evolve throughout the day with help from audience members. WKU Forensics team members will serve as emcees for IFBG.

“Ideas galore!” said Julia Roberts, executive director of The Center for Gifted Studies. “Don’t miss IdeaFestival Bowling Green. In fact, we hope it is a new tradition for you.”

Festival passes are $10 for students and $20 for the general public. For more information visit

WKU celebrates opening of Innoplexx, the Student Business Accelerator

WKU’s Research Foundation celebrated the grand opening of a 1,200-square-foot space in the Center for Research and Development for Innoplexx, the WKU Student Business Accelerator, on Tuesday (Dec. 4) at the Center for Research and Development on the corner of Nashville Road and Campbell Lane.

The Innoplexx name being unveiled.
WKU President Gary Ransdell helped unveil Innoplexx as the new name of the Student Business Accelerator during a ceremony Dec. 4. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

“The student business accelerator is an incredibly important step for WKU as we seek to create an environment that facilitates commercialization and moves intellectual property into the marketplace,” said WKU President Gary Ransdell. “This is a great example of WKU setting the stage for our students to have the opportunity to implement their ideas and start a business. The main dynamic is allowing young minds to achieve their potential.”

Innoplexx gives students a place to work and network with others that are in the first phase of starting their business. The room provided was renovated to meet the needs of what students today expect out of their work space. Lining the walls are four retro style desks turned in various directions to interact with others who may stop by to work. Two large white boards are on the walls so they can brainstorm, a ping-pong table doubles as a conference table, and a large sectional couch and ottoman face a large screen TV that students can plug their laptops into and work on the large screen.

People mill around in the Innoplexx room
A room at WKU’s Center for Research and Development was renovated to house Innoplexx, the Student Business Accelerator. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

Innoplexx is a partnership between the WKU Research Foundation, the Central Region ICC (part of the Kentucky Innovation Network), Warren County, the City of Bowling Green, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, the Bowling Green Technical College, and Innovate Kentucky.

“Building talent and leading innovation is the theme of the chamber this year,” said D. Gaines Penn, Chairman of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce. “This announcement of the student business accelerator at WKU is a prime example of that theme.”

“The Student Business Accelerator is the perfect place to create thoughts or sparks into products and then into businesses,” said Dr. Julia Roberts, Director of Innovate Kentucky and Mahurin Professor and Chair of Gifted Studies. “It is truly the incubator for entrepreneurialism.”

People attend the Innoplexx grand opening.
A ribbon cutting for Innoplexx was held Dec. 4 at WKU’s Center for Research and Development. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

Innoplexx is part of a statewide initiative to increase student innovation, Innovate Kentucky, funded through a grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation.

WKU is committed to partnering with the community to stimulate innovation in economic development in the region, both using and developing the talents of our students. “We are doing so many things that make us the intellectual heartbeat of Kentucky,” Dr. Ransdell said. “We are anxious to get our students engaged and see what is possible and what they can create.”

Research Louisville shows science in action

“Darcy, if you’ll hold him, I’ll make him come alive.”The Just for Kids Transport Team shows off John the test dummy.

With a few taps on a tablet computer, the child-sized test dummy named John snapped to life in Darcy’s arms. He blinked his brilliant blue eyes and breathed with a slight wheeze. The blue ring of light around John’s mouth offered a clue as to why his breathing was constricted – his oxygen levels were low.

This was the scene at the Louisville Science Center on Sept. 19, 2012, as the Just for Kids Transport Team presented to roughly 100 students seated in front of them. The students – grades 6-12 – were there for Research Louisville, a 1-day event where students heard from researchers and had hands-on science experiences.

The Just for Kids Transport Team, which provides transportation for young patients in need of sophisticated emergency care, brought John along to demonstrate how the team trains for handling different emergency scenarios.

First up was a situation in which John had drowned. The students watched as the team began chest compressions and administered CPR, all the while keeping an eye on the tablet to monitor John’s vital signs. Next up was a situation where John was in the hospital and had been wheezing for 30 minutes. Again, the students watched as team members sprang into action.

For Josh Sumrall, an eighth grader at TK Elementary School in Elizabethtown, the demonstration gave a real world application to what he’d been learning in class.

“I recognized a few of the terms,” Josh said. “I see how it applies now, how applications are carried out.”

Josh’s classmate Gracie Greenwell recognized the value in using a test dummy like John.

“I think it’s a great way to help teach our emergency personnel what’s going to happen,” she said.

Once the Just for Kids Transport Team finished its presentation, Josh, Gracie, and the rest of their classmates were taken upstairs for a demonstration from the Paris Simulation Center’s Kevin Martin and Ian Beilman. Kevin and Ian, with their own adult-sized dummy, simulated a collapsed lung. The students were then asked to guess what might be wrong with the dummy given its symptoms, and eventually they deduced the correct diagnosis.

TK Stone students Ethan Eitutis and Josh SumrallOne of the students who helped the group arrive at that diagnosis was Ethan Eitutis, whose mother works as a nurse at Hardin Memorial Hospital. Even with his previous exposure to the medical field, Ethan was still surprised at the sophistication of the dummy.

“I didn’t know that they had all this simulation stuff,” he said. “I thought they just did it with the dummies you see in the car crash commercials.”

Eager to avoid a desk job, Ethan said he’s thought about the entering the medical field – particularly as an EMT – for a possible career. For him, the possibility of helping others is exciting.

“I like the fact that you can interact with people besides just talking to them,” Ethan said. “You’re getting to help people. Whenever something is wrong, you can be the first person there to help somebody out.”

Ian said that’s what their demonstrations are all about – building excitement.

“Events like this show the practicality, show how we’re doing it, and it really gets people excited, he said. “We have to get past this viewpoint of science as something you don’t want to do, and make it something that is interesting, fascinating and cool.”

Ian believes that building interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is crucial to advancing society further into the 21st century.

A red button that says "Show me the science!"

“The STEM fields, that’s the future,” he said. “We need math and technology to discover. We’ve come so far and we still have so much to learn. We’ve seen more of the moon that we have the bottom of the ocean.”

That journey of discovery starts with students like Josh, Gracie and Ethan.

“They’ll be designing solutions to engineering problems that we don’t even know exist yet,” Ian said. “That’s why this is important.”

Click here to see a gallery of photos from Research Louisville.

See Blue STEM Camp

See Blue STEM Camp Group Photo

The NXT LEGO robot rolled forward, turned sharp left and – much to the horror of its creator – started veering off its intended course, crossing the line surrounding the designated checkpoint and eliciting a fresh wave of frustration.

“No!” exclaimed Rishi Alluri, throwing up his arms in defeat. Gathering his wayward robot, Rishi returned to a nearby computer for another round of programming. He’d consider if the degree of the turn was miscalculated, or if perhaps the distance was off by a fraction of an inch.

These are the type of questions Rishi and his classmates had to consider as they participated in the LEGO robotics class at the See Blue STEM Camp, which was held June 11-15 at the College of Education building on the campus of the University of Kentucky.

Rishi AlluriRather than lay around all summer, Rishi and 69 other campers in 6-9th grade decided to challenge their brains with a week’s worth of learning in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The See Blue STEM Camp offered classes in engineering, math, neurobiology, astronomy and LEGO robotics.

To ensure that everyone received a balanced learning experience, all campers were required to take each of the classes.

The idea for a STEM camp arose from the mind of Dr. Craig Schroeder, who started the program in 2010 at Jessie Clark Middle School in Lexington with eight campers. That number increased threefold in 2011, and thanks to a grant from the Math Clinic at UK, the camp was able to open its doors to students from across the state and increase its enrollment to 70 this year.

“I want to get kids involved with activities they don’t think are STEM,” Schroeder said. “Students see math and science as just subjects in school. I want to give them activities at this young age where they can blossom and see things that they can do with their life.”

Given the response Schroeder saw when he opened the camp up to all of Kentucky, there’s a strong desire among young students to learn about STEM.

“We accepted 70 but we had 140 on our registration list,” Schroeder said. “We turned a lot of students away so we’re going to work next year to see if we could do two weeks or figure out a way logistically that we could get them all in. Because I hate turning down students.”

Schroeder said anyone who was turned away will have first crack at registering for the 2013 See Blue STEM Camp, which means there’s still hope for the 70 students who didn’t get to attend in 2012.

See Blue STEM Camp Engineering classThis year’s campers shared a common interest in the STEM fields and especially liked the amount of hands-on activities the camp offered. Quinn Andrews said she enjoyed building a spectrometer in astronomy and making a DC motor in her engineering class.

“Some of my classes in school are really just books and I like it more when we get to do stuff like that,” she said.

The 2011 See Blue STEM camp impressed Brian Johnston so much he decided to come back in 2012.

“I came last year and it was a pretty interesting camp so I decided it would be a really fun thing to do again,” Brian said. “I enjoy the technology and science, and since I’m a kinetic learner, I do best with hands-on stuff.”

With a slate of challenging classes, a group of brilliant and passionate teachers, and a line-up of guest speakers meant to inspire the campers, Schroeder hopes the See Blue STEM Camp will help lay the foundation for the state’s next generation of innovators and thought leaders.

“As far as Kentucky goes, we need to bring in leaders and develop those leaders,” he said. “We can’t just give them the summer off to do that.”

See photo galleries from the engineering and LEGO robotics classes.

Watch a video with thoughts from the students on why they chose to come to camp.

Listen to a podcast in which Dr. Craig Schroeder talks about the See Blue STEM Camp.