ACA Implements its STEM Outreach Program

STEM education. Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. STEM concept with drawing background. Magnifying glass over education background.

When the American Coatings Association (ACA) conducted a survey of its members about the confidence they felt in their corporate succession plans, it was found that in the longer term (10 years plus), there was concern about secur­ing talent. If current technical/R&D staff­ing trends continue, there might not be sufficient human resources to maintain a high level of innova­tion. ACA considered various options to advance science and technology education, and STEM (science, technology, engi­neering, and math) education was identified as an important component of its strategy. The paint and coatings industry competes with what some might regard as “sexier” high-tech industries—medical, aerospace, and computing—for scientific minds. Therefore, the association wanted to connect with younger students just as they are beginning to explore different career paths and show them how exciting the coatings industry can be, according to Stephen R. Sides, vice president of Global Affairs and chief science officer for ACA.

The solution adopted by the STEM Subcommit­tee of ACA’s Science and Technology Committee included enlisting the services of Young Minds Inspired (YMI), a consulting company specializing in educational outreach that has demonstrated success working for other trade associations for science-based indus­tries. YMI was hired to develop educational tools and disseminate them to middle school science teachers and their students, in close coordination with ACA staff and mem­bers. ACA, in collabo­ration with YMI, has launched a campaign, “Coatings—They’ve Got You Covered,” which is being managed by Xavier Ferrier, an Environmental, Health and Safety specialist with ACA. As part of the program, materials along with supporting documentation have been developed and distributed to a select set of teachers by YMI and a network of industry presenters developed by ACA.

The program has two components that address the respective needs of teachers and those industry experts who want to participate in STEM out­reach efforts—a Teacher’s Guide and a Presenter’s Guide. The Teacher’s Guide, designed in a poster format, includes reproducible panels that can be copied and distributed to students. These describe a variety of activities and experiments that students can perform under the supervision of their teachers. The guide provides information about coatings and the science behind them. It will be distributed to middle school teachers in targeted areas where ACA has an established presence, such as in towns and cities near universities with leading polymer science and coatings programs, according to Sides.

The Presenter’s Guide is designed for individuals who have experience with coatings, such as indus­try professionals and people involved in local trade groups, but might not have knowledge or expertise in reaching out to schools or in teaching middle-school-aged children. It is, in part, intended to con­nect teachers with people that can provide advice or even help with in-school presentations. ACA also anticipates that some volunteers will be proactive and pursue their own outreach efforts, so informa­tion is provided on how to reach out to schools. The material is designed to help people who have never participated in STEM outreach activities previously, as well as to complement and support ongoing STEM outreach programs across the industry, according to Ferrier. “Our goal was to provide companies with a baseline of information that they can expand on by incorporating their own experiences,” he says.

The Teacher’s Guide includes a Letter to the Educator containing information on how coatings improve and en­hance our world. It details the standards-based activities presented in the document, which are designed to inves­tigate a broad array of STEM-related coatings applica­tions. Three reproducible activity sheets discuss different types of coatings and their functions, color science, and the concepts behind cool coatings.

The Presenter’s Guide includes a Letter to the Pre­senter that discusses the need for STEM outreach in the coatings industry and the ways in which classroom visits can influence young and curious minds. This guide also includes information on how to reach out to schools, plan a visit, and organize a presentation. It offers important talking points that can be made—and even includes tips on talking to teens. Pointers for each of the three activities from the Teacher’s Guide are provided, along with two additional activities on (1) corrosion prevention and (2) polymer chemistry and crosslinking. Presenters also have access to a career guide with information on coatings and their role serv­ing different industries—from aerospace to cosmetics and video gaming to fashion. The Presenter’s Guide also includes suggestions on steps students can take to expand their knowledge of STEM subjects.

The activities and experiments in the guides are not new but have been modified to incorporate both the experiences of people who have performed them pre­viously and specific coatings chemistry elements. The terminology and science discussed in the guides was reviewed extensively during their development, first by a small focus review group with representatives from four ACA member companies, then by the STEM Subcommittee, and finally by the Science and Technology Committee, which includes members of the editorial boards of the Journal of Coatings Technology & Research and CoatingsTech. “The challenge,” notes Ferrier, “was to create guides that put coatings science in terms that middle school students can understand.”

The work has only just begun, of course. “Now that the program is live with the guides distributed to teachers and our network of presenters, we will be further building the program with continued outreach,” Ferrier observes. ACA is receiving feedback from YMI about uptake of the Teacher’s Guide, information that will help shape the program going forward. Visibility of the program is also enhanced by a website——which includes additional information for teachers and presenters, as well as statistics for the program. In addition, ACA is actively promoting the “Coatings—They’ve Got You Covered” initiative through in-house communication activities. The association has also been discussing with other allied organizations, such as SSPC and CRGI, the potential for these groups to leverage the program and increase STEM presentations.

“Ultimately, the ACA-YMI partnership has yielded a fun, informative, and polished program, which has been extremely well-received at all levels of ACA’s science and technology function,” Ferrier says. ACA and its S&T com unity are eager for the ensuing outreach efforts.

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