The Inaugural STEM Summit, Hosted by NSNO and GNORocs, Provides Educators with Free, High-Quality, Hands-On Professional Development 

NSNO Chief of Schools Nan Sterling is clear on the power of a strong science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. “We are preparing kids to solve problems that we can’t yet conceive of,” she explains. 

Sterling was a teacher and a principal before coming to NSNO. Today, she and her team help schools across the city purchase and implement high-quality curriculum and access great professional development. This spring, they’re also partnering with GNO Inc’s program, GNOrocs, to launch the inaugural NOLA STEM Summit. On May 25th and 26th, at the Pan American Life Center, they’ll bring together 200 K-12 educators for free professional development and connection with experts in the field. 

Teachers in our city have long been asking Sterling and her team for help with science curriculum. When she began her work with NSNO a few years ago, the state hadn’t yet designated high-quality science curriculum aligned with new state standards. Now that they have, teachers are eager for the chance to dive into the materials and provide a phenomenal STEM education for their children. 

At the NOLA STEM Summit, they’ll have the chance to do just that–to think outside the box and explore the hands-on STEM opportunities in our region that they can offer to students. Representatives from STEM-focused nonprofit groups will lead sessions and activities throughout two days of breakout sessions. One day of the summit is designed for elementary school educators, and the next for middle and high school teachers.

Sterling says, “It’s not your typical professional development–teachers get to tinker, and they get to play and they get to pretend that they’re kids in a classroom.” 

Sessions cover everything from bringing arts into STEM, offering outdoor education, and incorporating practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. The Audubon Nature Institute, for instance, will offer a class on ecology and animal behavior, and the local nonprofit Electric Girls will teach a class on soldering an electrical circuit board. Families Helping Families NOLA will teach a class on their Computing for Youth with Autism Program. The Global Geospatial Institute will teach a class on geospatial mapping for middle and high school teachers.

Sterling knows that for children to fall in love with STEM, they need the chance to explore it–as she puts it, “really inspiring children to think outside the box and have creative moments.”

“It’s hard to replicate something that you’ve never experienced,” she says. “The idea behind STEM summit is that once we unlock teachers to be creative and take risks with their children around these concepts, we are igniting a flame within our children.”

As educators engage with these activities, the NOLA STEM Summit team will help them bridge the projects to curriculum. 

“So many of our providers are local and they know about the state standards. The idea is that they’re going to show you, ‘This unit that you have to do on this topic? This might be your Friday activity. This is it. Start here,” she says.  

Sterling and her team hope that educators leave the sessions feeling engaged, inspired, and energized to bring these practices to their own classrooms. In addition to their breakout sessions and activities, teachers will hear from keynote speaker Dr. Calvin Mackie, President and CEO of STEM NOLA, NOLA-PS Superintendent Avis Williams, and NSNO’s CEO, Dana Peterson. Educators will leave the summit ready to collaborate with one another to bring strong STEM experiences to their own schools. 

Speakers, from left to right: Dana Peterson, Dr. Calvin Mackie, Dr. Avis Williams

One of Sterling’s teammates, April Carter, NSNO’s Schools Team Coordinator, has been instrumental in planning the summit. She also has first-hand experience with the power of these experiences–not just for learning STEM concepts, but for building a sense of belonging in students. Her son, a student in NOLA Public Schools, recently watched students from across the city, state, nation, and world compete in the FIRST Robotics Bayou Regional Competition.

“He liked how they were teams,” Carter explains. “The teams were dressed alike, they were cheering, they had chants. Everybody had their one role–and for a kid like him, that’s a little more quiet and reserved, he can see where he can fit into a team like that…to give that confidence, like, ‘if I can do this one part on the team, then I’m helping the overall goal.’”

Opportunities for students–and teachers–to be a part of teams like this not only boosts academic understanding, but fuels well-being. 

“Exposing teachers to these opportunities in which they can have a sense of belonging for themselves and their kids is super important,” Sterling says. 

She points out that belonging can fuel great science–because great science requires risk. That risk requires a sense of academic safety and support. Sterling points to a pair of students at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans East, who recently made an incredible, historic mathematical discovery

“You think about the opportunities they’ve had to take a risk,” Sterling says. “That’s what we want for our children.”

After NOLA STEM Summit, she believes that 200 more teachers in this city will be better prepared to help their children take those risks. Sterling says there’s no time to waste–as our world confronts growing challenges around climate change, for instance, we need new solutions. Our students, she feels, will be the ones to find them. 

The problem we are trying to solve has a solution resting within the brains of one of the children in one of our classrooms,” says Sterling. “We just need to unlock that and set that free.”


Educators – if you haven’t yet registered for NOLA STEM Summit, there’s still time. Sign up here if you teach grades K-4 and here if you teach grades 5-12. 

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