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. 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.”
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.