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Co-op Student Helps Guide Transformation of New STEM School

Tina McClain is the first UC student to gain experience through a partnership to restructure William Howard Taft Elementary into a state-of-the art STEM school, but she’ll be one of many UC students both sharing and gaining valuable experience through the partnership.

Date: 8/18/2008
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Lisa Ventre and Katie Hageman
On Aug. 19, Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) William Howard Taft Elementary welcomes PreK through 8th grade students into a newly restructured school emphasizing the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, as part of a new partnership in alignment with a state emphasis on STEM alliances to build on Ohio’s presence in the global economy.
Tina McClain
Tina McClain

But through the summer, University of Cincinnati student Tina McClain was working behind the scenes as part of her first cooperative experience with CPS, helping to guide the crews that were transforming the school into a state-of-the-art facility.

The fall opening of William H. Taft Elementary is the first milestone in a partnership – including Cincinnati Public Schools, UC, General Electric, Duke Energy, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Apple, Inc., and the Cincinnati Museum Center – to build a PreK-16 educational pipeline to excellence in the STEM professions and STEM education. Students completing eighth grade at William H. Taft Elementary will automatically be eligible to attend Hughes Center, a school just down the street from UC that is undergoing its own transformation into a STEM high school.

Digital Commons planning
Digital commons planning

The partnership will lead to educational field experiences for CPS students as well as for UC students like Tina McClain, a second-year architectural engineering technology major in the College of Applied Science (CAS). McClain spent her summer co-op coordinating the work to be done at William H. Taft Elementary, including managing electrical and carpentry workers who turned the old school library into one of two digital commons sites at the school where technology-based assignments and experiences will take place.

The digital commons have laptop and desktop computers, videoconferencing and video streaming capability.

Digital Commons
Digital Commons

James Basham, a UC assistant professor of teacher education who is working with CPS educators on the partnership, adds that each room has some form of interactive white board – an electronic board that interacts with computers. “The white boards are also height adjustable, which means they can be matched to the different heights of children in a PreK-8 school, allowing for team learning and problem-solving activities among the students,” adds Basham.

McClain, meanwhile, says she’s had a fantastic experience on her co-op as the old carpet comes up and a revitalized school and its programs gear up for its grand opening. “This has been very exciting,” she says. “Everyone knows what they need to do. I’m just working to keep everything on track, and I feel like we’ve played a fairly integral role in making this happen. I enjoy the people and the atmosphere.”

McClain, 31, is balancing achieving her education with the responsibilities of family, and she says she was happy to have a co-op experience close to home. Her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Madison, attends UC Child Care Center, Inc. McClain will celebrate her eight-year wedding anniversary with husband James this year.

It’s her second student experience at UC, she says, after she first started at UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning right after graduating from Mercy High School. “I meandered through college for a couple of years and then I decided to leave and figure out what I really wanted to do. I did real estate for a while, did homeowner’s claims for a while, and figured out what I didn’t want to do,” she laughs. “My brother, meanwhile, was majoring in construction management in CAS, and he liked it, so I decided to pursue the technical side of architecture through architectural engineering technology.”

Community Day
Principal Donna Fields, the Bearcat, first-grader Malik Denkins and Daja Dankey (daughter of a Taft elementary teacher) at Community Day

McClain she feels UC is dedicated to the enrichment of students says no matter what their age, and says that will be an added advantage for the young students about to enter William H. Taft Elementary. “I think UC is on the cutting edge of preparing students for what’s in store ahead and this partnership is one example of that,” she says. “As they look ahead to college, they’ll have a definite advantage of being a part of this partnership at such a young age, and they’ll be making some great connections.”

Those connections include future collaborations with UC students. Anant Kukreti, UC professor of civil and environmental engineering, is coordinating with the William H. Taft administration to provide opportunities for UC students in the College of Engineering’s NSF-funded S-STEM scholarship program to serve as tutors, field trip guides, mentors for students and to offer computer expertise for teachers, as part of the UC students’ 30-hour per year community service component of their scholarship. Kukreti says the program supports 32 underrepresented engineering students who were awarded the scholarships last fall.

Furthermore, students pursuing careers in STEM education in UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) will also be involved in the collaboration as part of their field experience.

The William H. Taft Elementary STEM school partnership is a pioneering concept, but of course UC’s involvement is no surprise to Tina McClain as she completes her co-op, a program that alternates time in the classroom with paid, on-the-job experience related to the student’s study. After all, it was UC that pioneered cooperative education back in 1906 – an idea that sees continued growth today in academic programs around the world.