STEM school

Posted: July 18, 2012 - 2:00pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 1 | 2012

The L&N STEM Academy's doors opened in September, and Y‑12 employees are already crossing the stained-glass threshold to support the school and the student body.

Y‑12 is one of Tennessee's largest employers of engineers and scientists, so the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus of Knoxville's newest high school is a natural fit.

Financial funding came first. As the managing and operating contractor of Y‑12, B&W Y‑12 pledged $400,000 for a state-of-the-art chemistry laboratory for the 150 or so freshmen and sophomores enrolled in this year's classes. After the historic L&N Station was renovated into a school building, Y‑12 employees began volunteering in the classroom. Project engineer Mike Antonas used his structural engineering background to guide students through designing a possible real-world addition to their campus.

The students exit one building (L&N Station) and walk through a parking lot to reach the school's laboratories in the old depot. “The students were asked to design a bridge for their own use, to connect the two buildings,” explained Antonas. “I helped them think about the different aspects of bridge design. What materials would you use? Would you have trusses? Where's the best place for support?” Virtual testing of the designs gave the students feedback on the load-bearing limitations of their designs.

Employee involvement goes beyond the classroom, however. John Gertsen, vice president of UPF Programs, has a particularly vested interest: His son, Henry, is a freshman there.

“From the first planning sessions, the school administration emphasized partnership with industry,” explained Gertsen. “I already knew I wanted Henry there as a student, but the more I heard, the more I knew Y‑12 should be there too, as a partner.” Gertsen works with the school's Industrial Advisory group, which helps identify and establish other area partnerships for the school. He also works with the school's Robotics Club.

“This school is different,” said sophomore Sarah Smith. “As students, we choose to leave our old schools and come here. We are really grateful for the community's support.”