Above, left: Denise Simmons in the classroom. Above, right: students working on projects in local STEM programs with Denise.
“STEM levels the playing field. Anybody can be whatever they want. If kids are working with a 3D printer to design a prosthetic hand, they’re not thinking about socioeconomic barriers. They’re thinking about what they can do with that printer.”
Dr. Denise Simmons is assistant professor of Educational Leadership & Technology at Midwestern State University. With co-chair Marcie Williford, she is the new TAME Chapter Leader in TAME’s Wichita Falls Chapter. This story is the final segment in a three-part series celebrating past and present leadership in Wichita Falls.
What’s going on with TAME in Wichita Falls?
Obviously, you’re a big champion of STEM education! Why do you think it’s so important?
What got you involved with TAME?
This is my second year at MSU. Before that, I was the STEM project director for La Marque ISD. The district was facing a lot of challenges and we were working to turn it around through STEM programs. It’s a financially impoverished community, but the students are striving and they are succeeding. I was able to make connections and bring in experts. We did project-based learning pertinent to our area, including water robotics and biotechnology.
When I got to MSU, I saw there was an engineering department, and I went right over. The first thing I did was help run the YES Camp, the Young Engineers Summer Camp. That’s when I met Mr. Downing. I was recruiting students and needless to say I recruited more than we could handle. It was fantastic. They were expecting 20 students and we had 65.
As to how I became a co-chair of TAME, I’m still scratching my head, but I was invited and I love it!
Marcie and I are very involved with the ISD. We have a wonderful partnership with the new superintendent, Mike Kuhrt. His expectation is that every campus in the Wichita Falls ISD will have a TAME club, and the elementary schools are jumping on board.
TAME clubs make a positive difference not just for the kids but also for the teachers. We don’t just say, start a club, we provide training and support for the teachers. We make sure they have access to effective activities that are also easy and inexpensive, and that help prepare students for the STEM Competitions.
I just wrote a grant to bring undergraduates from different disciplines into TAME clubs. The idea is not just that they will provide support, but that kids can see people who look like them succeeding and think, if he or she can do it, so can I. I was one of those kids myself. I was motivated by positive peer pressure to go to college. I can promise you I wasn’t thinking about college one bit until my best friend told me she was going.
You’ve just returned from traveling. What were you doing?
What’s next for TAME in Wichita Falls?
Thanks to TAME and to the American Honda Foundation, the TAME Trailblazer will visit Region 9 on Friday, March 16th. If you’re in the area, mark your calendars! Students will be involved in designing and testing Stomp Rockets, and door prizes will be awarded.
By Jessie Temple, October 19, 2015.