STEM in the Schoolyard: Sparking the ‘Curiosity’ That Fuels Innovation

TI's Rich Templeton says, “Innovation in this world is alive and well: It’s alive and well at TI, and it’s alive and well in North Texas,” as he works to promote STEM education.


A sunny sky. A sparkling green football field with gleaming white tents. Hundreds of bright young minds interacting with energetic tech experts. Words like “wow,” and “cool” floating throughout the air.

It was the perfect mix Tuesday to inspire hundreds of sixth-grade students with the possibilities of what STEM education can offer for their futures at the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ STEM in the Schoolyard event at Richardson’s Lloyd V. Berkner High School.

The event was presented by Dallas-based semiconductor giant, Texas Instruments, and Mr. Cooper, a Coppell-based provider of mortgage servicing, origination, and transaction-based services.

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas annual campaign chairs Rich and Mary Templeton joined volunteers from Texas Instruments, Mr. Cooper, and TXU Energy to work with the nearly 400 sixth-grade students on science, technology, engineering, and math education exercises.

STEM education

Hundreds of sixth-graders filled the stadium at Berkner High School for STEM in the Schoolyard. [Photo: Marcy Meeks]

STEM education gets backing from the corporate world

Roughly 150 of the 180 corporate volunteers on hand work for TI, and for TI Chairman and CEO Rich Templeton, supporting STEM education is a no-brainer.

“If you look at what’s going on with STEM in the Schoolyard, it’s at the heart of what we do as a company,” Templeton told Dallas Innovates at the event. “It’s about, yes, shareholders have to be successful—and employees—but its about communities as well.”

Templeton spent the morning working with students on an exercise in which they built a circuit using a diagram, a 9-volt battery, and electrical components.

“Innovation in this world is alive and well: It’s alive and well at TI, and it’s alive and well in North Texas.”
Rich Templeton

“You had a chance to watch these kids start to light up when they understand how technology can impact their lives,” Templeton said of his morning. “We think it’s a great opportunity to introduce them to technology and get them excited.”

Rich and Mary Templeton are well known for their community involvement. “Mary and I believe that sparking early interest in STEM is critical for our community and our future workforce,” Rich Templeton said. 

STEM education

A student builds a circuit during an exercise at STEM in the Schoolyard. [Photo: Lance Murray]

It’s also a way to move innovation forward in North Texas—in a region that continues to gain accolades from across the country as a place for innovative, tech-related companies to locate.

“Innovation to me is a wonderful thing, and I go to a very simple word of ‘curiosity’—that is if you’re curious about how things work, or can you find a better way to solve an old problem, you’re on your way to innovation,” Templeton said.

Events such as STEM in the Schoolyard are indicative of the state of innovation in the region, he continued. “Innovation in this world is alive and well: It’s alive and well at TI, and it’s alive and well in North Texas. We’re pleased to be a member here.”

TI volunteer Robert Rich works with students on programming robots with a calculator so they can traverse a track. [Photo: Lance Murray]

Templeton called his interaction with students Tuesday morning gratifying: “It’s great to see these kids getting introduced to that curiosity, that spark of understanding of how things work.”

STEM education helps build strong workforces

STEM education is a major component of United Way’s community involvement, too.

“STEM is a critical area in our overall education focus,” Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton President and CEO, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, told Dallas Innovates. She said United Way has a goal to increase the number of students graduating from high school ready for success—whether that be college or certification for a job.

Sampson said that twice as many jobs will require STEM skills over the next 20 years, and that STEM jobs are paid more than twice the average median salary of all other jobs.

But, statistics indicate that local youth are not performing at high enough levels on key educational indicators to be ready to seize those higher-paying positions.

According to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ community scorecards, just 40 percent of eighth-graders in Dallas County met state standards in science, and 44 percent of students met state standards in Algebra 1, an important predictor of high school graduation and college readiness. 

“We have a goal to increase the number of students graduating from high school ready for success.”
Jennifer Sampson

“We’re not seeing the level of performance in STEM classrooms, so we’re trying to bridge the gap by activities like these, volunteer events like these, where we’re giving kids an opportunity to do hands-on activities with volunteers who are experts in that field,” Sampson said.

According to United Way, STEM fields are projected to drive the U.S. economy and grow by 18 percent, doubling the projected growth of other fields.

With help from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and CircuitScribe, volunteers led the sixth-graders in hands-on learning experiences with real-world tech such as facial recognition software and coding robots. Students drew functioning electrical circuits on paper, designed wind turbines, and learned lessons in the areas of financial literacy and mathematics.

STEM education

Mary Templeton, left, watches a technology demonstration with a group of sixth-grade students. [Photo: Lance Murray]

STEM education

Students use Lego blocks in an engineering exercise at STEM in the Schoolyard. [Photo: Lance Murray]

Students and volunteers did STEM exercise under large tents, shielding them from the bright sun. [Photo: Lance Murray]

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