As the demand for a skilled STEM workforce continues to grow, educational programs dedicated to STEM are more important than ever.

One educator who is leading the charge for these programs is Erica Frazier Stum, the STEM Director at the Paramount School of Excellence (PSOE). As an educator, mentor, and engineering/technology advocate, Erica has helped pave the way for robotics and STEM in Indiana over the past 10 years.

Graduating from Ball State University, Erica received her bachelor’s degree in engineering and technology education in 2007 and her master’s degree in special education in 2013. Knowing she wanted to teach engineering and technology, she began her career as a teacher in Southern Indiana.

By day, Erica taught at Highland Hills Middle School and New Albany High School, building engineering and technology curriculums for her students. By night, she was involved with Engineering/Technology Educators of Indiana (E/TEI), the professional organization for K-12 and post-secondary engineering and technology educators. As an active member of the organization, she worked her way from being secretary to the president-elect, serving her presidential term in 2012.

After leaving Southern Indiana and coming to Indianapolis in 2013, Erica began her career at the Paramount School of Excellence as a special education teacher. When Greg Ballard announced the robotics initiative in 2013, the PSOE needed someone to head the new robotics program, VEX IQ. Erica enthusiastically volunteered, excited by the prospect of mentoring young minds in the fields of engineering and technology once again.

VEX IQ: Hands-On Robotics and STEM Education

VEX IQ WorldsAs the STEM Director, Erica has shaped the PSOE’s VEX IQ program, a hands-on program that uses a snap-together robotics system to offer young students a rich and exciting introduction to STEM.

The program is open to third- to eighth-grade students who can choose to participate in an after-school club, summer school program, or on one of the competitive teams. By offering a variety of options to get involved, the school has been able to accommodate maximum student participation. In fact, during the 2016 – 2017 school year, 10% of Paramount’s student population were involved in robotics, with two elementary and one middle school qualifying for VEX IQ Worlds for the fourth consecutive year.

Under Erica’s direction, at least one of the Paramount School of Excellence’s competitive teams have qualified for the VEX Worlds competition each year.

When asked about her favorite part of her career, Erica said she loved introducing new experiences to the young students.

Erica Frazier Stum

Erica Frazier StumSTEM Director, Paramount School of Excellence

“[My favorite part is] having the experience of taking students who might not have ever left Indianapolis or stay the night somewhere other than their house.” During the first year of the program, the PSOE took 3 students who had never traveled before to California to attend VEX Worlds competition.

Each year, the PSOE brings more and more students into that experience to compete with other schools all over the world. “It really is an amazing experience for me to watch and for the kids to have,” said Erica.

Furthering STEM Initiatives and Careers

To continue advancing STEM careers in Indiana, Erica believes that “businesses and schools need to partner together so that the schools know what types of skills the businesses need in the technology world.” She also finds it beneficial when different people who work in technology come in to talk to the students.

“I think a lot of students just think [working in robotics is] not obtainable for them,” said Erica. “They don’t realize that playing with robots or playing video games can actually develop into something that could actually be a career.”

Erica is currently on medical leave from the Paramount School of Excellence. She was diagnosed with Stage 1B2 cervical cancer in 2012 at the age of 27. Calling herself a Cervivor, she regularly posts updates and inspiration on her blog. Erica plans to continue being a part of the robotics program at the Paramount School of Excellence when she can.