STEM Night shows Wilson County capitalizing on big tech investment

Jeffrey Bennett, an astrophysicist, speaks during the recent Wilson County Schools STEM night.

Cedric Dent Jr. • Mt. Juliet News

Wilson County Schools hosted several STEM educators and a guest speaker on global warming while the county is seeing massive tech investment from sources that smell like Amazon.

STEM Night was only the latest example of Wilson County capitalizing on a recent influx of tech industry investment. Emphasizing education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the county school system brought in instructors from zSpace, Sattler Foundation Aerospace Education and multiple schools in the county.

Attendees benefitted from hands-on demonstrations of haptic augmented reality, game theory simulations, the intersection of chemistry and technology, electrical engineering and myriad other scientific applications. zSpace, for example, is a California-based tech company that specializes in virtual and augmented reality software, and its applications facilitate user interaction with virtual environments.

The Bill Sattler Foundation for Aerospace Education is best known for its summer camp at Lebanon Municipal Airport. The camp is geared toward middle schoolers, and it educates them on the individual components of aircraft as well as their design and purpose. The camp contributed a booth and presentation for STEM Night complete with a model plane, flown via remote control like a drone.

The event culminated with a presentation on global warming from Jeffrey Bennett, an astrophysicist and prolific author. His expressed aim was to remove political partisanship from the conversation to examine the science, consequences and solutions as objectively as possible.

"There's one thing that we're not polarized about," Bennett said. "No matter how right-wing or left-wing you are, everybody wants a better world for their kids and their grandkids."

To illustrate this without partisan politics, he used examples of conservatives from previous generations like former Secretary of State George Schultz and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to assert that curtailing the effects of global warming was originally a conservative issue.

The event came as Wilson County Schools prepares to significantly improve computer science education and as developers bring a projected 1,200 new tech-related jobs to Mt. Juliet. The county contracted with a Seattle-based firm, TechSmart -- an Amazon-affiliate firm -- to outfit its schools with coding curriculum. Meanwhile, speculation abounds about the soon-to-be biggest building in Tennessee being an Amazon fulfillment center.

At a school board meeting in August, schools Director Donna Wright said that TechSmart's contract with the school system was generous with competitive costs for curriculum-as-a-service, and she said it was an investment TechSmart was making in the area for a strategic purpose.

"They'll bring in a workforce from the West Coast and the East Coast," Wright said, "which sort of eliminates as far as where they locate simply because of not being able to meet the demand, so that is the interest as far as why are they investing in us."

Teachers are scheduled to be instructed over the course of next summer to roll out the new curriculum next school year. The contract promises "coding knowledge certifications that will lead students to being able to procure in-demand jobs in Middle Tennessee area."

More recently, Mt. Juliet commissioners approved Project Sam on Oct. 28, a 3.2 million-square-foot building projected to bring 1,200 new jobs. Its layout has been reported as resembling the layouts of other Amazon fulfillment centers, and the developer has described the new jobs it promises as being largely tech and robotics jobs.

Whether it's all an Amazon-led strategy or not, considerable tech investment is pouring into Wilson County, and the success of STEM Night suggests that Wilson County Schools intends to capitalize on that.

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