Advice for Becoming a Governor's Designated STEM School

Each year K-12 schools across Nevada apply for the Nevada Governor’s STEM School Designation for recognition of their school’s STEM initiatives. Designated schools demonstrate research-based attributes for high-quality STEM schools, outlined in the Nevada STEM Framework, such as integrated instruction, community partnerships, and educator expertise in STEM. Students at STEM schools have access to experiential learning, innovative real-world problem-solving opportunities, and preparation for Nevada’s STEM careers. Students collaborate with community experts and leaders to enhance their understanding of STEM topics. Additionally, students at STEM schools develop their STEM identities and see themselves in STEM.


This year’s application for the designation is now open, and we asked Designated STEM Schools what advice they have for aspiring STEM schools in Nevada. Read their responses below.


     Participating in the Governor’s STEM Leadership Academy was a valuable experience for our STEM Leadership team as it really solidified our understanding of STEM education. STEM is used so often and as you search the internet for ideas and resources there are many things out there that are not truly STEM. Having the knowledge of what STEM is and is not is an important part of the process. The Nevada STEM Framework is a great resource to self-evaluate and see what areas your school may need to make improvements. I would definitely recommend starting here if you are an aspiring STEM school. I would also recommend applying for the STEM Leadership Academy if you are committed as it helps your teamwork through what STEM could look like at your school. It is great preparation for the work ahead.

-Adrienne Wiggins, STEM Coach at Empire Elementary School, Carson City


     To the process and application, the biggest advice I have is to document all that you do, illustrate your application, and have multiple individuals involved. In keeping in contact with our community partners and with showcasing our schools and programs, I created monthly Newsletters that highlighted major innovations, events, and accomplishments. These were the renovations of labs and classrooms, competitions we attended or hosted, events, STEM Tank, NAV Time, various projects, guest speakers, field trips, student and school achievements, and the list goes on. Not only did it showcase our school, but it also served as documentation and ended up greatly assisting me when writing up the application to become a Governor's Designated STEM School. If your school doesn't currently do something similar, I highly recommend starting. You can use other creative outlets such as a video presentation or podcasting! Along with documentation is a huge need and desire to illustrate what you're talking about! Having just a wall of text explaining a field trip or an event is not as inviting or enticing as if there was an image to associate with it. When you write up your application, don't be afraid to add some pictures if applicable to showcase what you're talking about. When talking about our 360 classrooms, it's a lot easier to show an image and reference it to focus on the setup rather than trying to explain what it looks like. After all, "A picture speaks a thousand words"! Lastly is the expectation that the application should be in some way or form a school effort before being submitted. Everyone has different perspectives and frames of reference. As the coordinator, I wrote and created the bulk of the application. However once done writing the bulk and framework, it went through extensive revisions and reviews by the administration and multiple teachers and staff on campus; referencing both the application itself and the STEM Framework that the application is written based on. Areas that I knew I wanted to talk about but wasn't an expert in I left open with those that were. For aspiring STEM schools, it's important that your whole school is involved, or at least as many representatives from different focuses and contents as possible. If only one person or one department writes, reviews, and submits it then you lose the opportunity to gain beneficial perspectives, ideas, and you may have inaccuracies that will show themselves during the tour.

-Cody Wall, STEM and Magnet Coordinator at Lied STEM Academy, Las Vegas


     As an aspiring STEM school, it is extremely important that your school is very clear on its ultimate mission and vision. It is important that everyone in the school has a clear understanding of what STEAM education really is and looks like. This vision needs to drive EVERY aspect of your decision-making. It takes a truly collective effort to become an effective STEM school. Administrative and staff buy-in and accountability are essential. Without a committed driving force from the top, an effective school-wide STEM program isn't possible. It's not a small undertaking to become a model STEM school but it's very rewarding and will ultimately have the strongest impact on your students.

-Calen Evans, STEM Coordinator at Lemelson STEM Academy, Reno


     My advice would be don't incorporate projects just to say that your students completed a project, and on the same side, don't incorporate classes just to say that you do. Authenticity is the most important thing to students, and when students realize that by completing a project or taking a class they are learning about the world around them in an authentic way, they love the opportunity and flourish in the environment. Have a team of people who are wanting to create the ideas and take the lead in bringing the entire staff and the students on board. Lastly, know that it doesn't happen overnight. Bringing authentic learning opportunities to students takes time, planning, and some trial and error; celebrate the process and continue to work on improving the opportunities available to students.

 -Kristin Asa, Magnet Theme Coordinator at Cashman Middle School, Las Vegas


     My advice for aspiring STEM schools is to look at what is out there. Nevada schools offer some incredible STEM programs for our students. Ask to visit a school to see how they are integrating STEM education into their daily instructional practices. Do not get caught up in all the high-tech tools and technology you might see. A strong STEM program is focused on the curriculum and interdisciplinary applied approach to teaching, not the supporting technologies in the classroom. 

 -Richard Knoeppel, Career and Technical Education Department Chair, Advanced Technologies Academy (A-TECH), Las Vegas


Is your school ready to be designated? Click here to view the application packet.

Please contact Tracey Howard with any questions about the designation, the process, or the application. 

Click here for a complete list of Designated STEM Schools.