CLEMSON — Hundreds of students in five Greenville County schools are involved in a new program that helps lay the engineering-and-science foundation that experts say will be needed to land jobs in modern manufacturing plants.

A program supported by Clemson University Center for Workforce Development has been traveling to after-school programs at elementary and middle schools across the district. The goal is to make pre-engineering and science concepts fun with hands-on activities while showing how they apply to real-world jobs.

The program comes as new and expanding companies across the state create advanced-manufacturing jobs that pay $50,000 or more a year. Employers, however, have expressed concern about a skills gap and said that the jobs require a solid background in the collection of disciplines known as STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

“The program is a way to expose students to growing industry in South Carolina early in their education,” said Rebecca Hartley, the director of pathways at the center. “Our focus is on advanced manufacturing because that is currently the state’s largest need.”

The nonprofit agency Communities In Schools worked with Greenville County Schools to get a $4,000 grant from the Center for Workforce Development to make the after-school program possible. It serves students in grades 2-8 and is taught by a team from the district’s Roper Mountain Science Center.

The engineering-and-science program will travel in its inaugural year to Chandler Creek Elementary, Duncan Chapel Elementary, Monaview Elementary, Sue Cleveland Elementary and Woodmont Middle. As many as 100 students can participate at each school.

Several lessons are included in the curriculum, which has been made part of the Roper Mountain Science Center’s long-running “Science on Wheels” program, said Jennifer Romatelli, the center’s curator of outreach.

“It’s a Breeze,” for example, shows students how air pressure affects everyday environment and intrigues students with questions, such as “How can air be used to crush a soda can?” “Chemical Capers” invites students to use all of their senses to investigate chemical reactions. As part of “Good Vibrations,” students learn about the properties of sound and then work together as a “boomwhacker band.”

The funds that paid for program were part of a $4.11-million grant that Duke Energy Foundation gave to the Center for Workforce Development last year to support workforce development and STEM education.

Amy Keely, director of after-school programs for Communities In Schools, said that while students enjoy the activities, the program helps them understand that they can be more than a hobby.

“In order for our country to be more competitive globally, our students need to have an interest in STEM and a better understanding of options in STEM careers,” Keely said.

Marjorie Dowd, director of education and economic development for Greenville County Schools, said the program is a perfect fit as the district looks for a way to bring science activities to after-school programs.

“Whether you’re a teacher or a scientist or working in business, everyone needs to understand problem-solving skills,” Dowd said. “The scientific method helps you to do that. There’s a process. There’s a beginning and an end. There are results, and they’re tangible. This was the best way to show students that.”

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