ECS Bolsters STEM Program

A New Emphasis

In the past 30 years, employment in STEM occupations has grown 79%, increasing from 9.7 million to 17.3 million jobs,[1] outpacing overall U.S. job growth, which is only expected to climb in the future, especially as companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google continue to dominate the economic landscape. Educating our youth on the disciplines of STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, is imperative to prepare students for tomorrow’s professions. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “If we want a nation where our future leaders, neighbors, and workers have the ability to understand and solve some of the complex challenges of today and tomorrow, and to meet the demands of the dynamic and evolving workforce, building students' skills, content knowledge, and fluency in STEM fields is essential.”[2]

This increased emphasis on STEM acumen served as an opportunity for Assistant Head of School & Academic Dean Jenny Shorten to redefine her search for a new upper school math teacher two years ago.

“The exponential growth in technology today requires us to prepare our learners for that world that is dominated by Science, Technology, Engineering and Math."

The exponential growth in technology today requires us to prepare our learners for that world that is dominated by Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Therefore, it was critical we added someone to our math department who understood this evolving paradigm. Dr. Stevens met and exceeded these criteria.”

A New Plan

With a vision to establish a K-12 STEM curriculum, as math department chair, Dr. Stevens has implemented the Project Lead the Way curriculum, a STEM program that was developed by engineers at the request of the STEM industry. Dr. Stevens offered a new course this year called Principles of Engineering. In this class, she exposed her students to the breadth of several different engineering disciplines, such as Civil, Mechanical, Industrial, Electrical and Chemical Engineering by integrating equations and principles taught within these specialties. Students used a VEX system to build, test and program projects such as small scale trusses, ballistic devices, robotics projects including a test bed, small elevator, cookie dispenser and a winch. Additional projects included design of electrical circuits on breadboards and building self-propelled vehicles using household items during quarantine.

“Math is a way for students to model the world around them, and I want my students to see and appreciate that,” Dr. Stevens says. I try to bring forward problems to challenge how they think about math and how they think in general.”

In next year’s class, students will learn how to design experiments and to draw 3-D sketches using AUTOCAD. Using this software, which is widely used in both engineering universities and industries, students will be able to design and watch their creations come to life on 3-D printers.

Dr. Stevens has big plans for future students. Math-minded students will be able to start a four-year engineering track starting as freshmen. As seniors, Dr. Stevens wants to create a capstone class in which students determine a problem and find a solution reviewed by local engineers.

Dr. Stevens is working in conjunction with Middle School STEM teachers Manuel Burton and Ben Todd, to grow the program with classes for sixth, seventh and eighth graders and take advantage of the new STEM lab equipped with 3-D printers, robotics and drone instruments. It also houses supplies needed for our Middle School LEGO League team to win first place in the city-wide competition at the University of Memphis last year.

She is also working with Director of Lower School Academics Ashley Colley and STEM teacher Pam Culbreth to ensure fun, educational hands-on STEM training beginning in the elementary grades as well. “Lower School students are introduced to the basic concepts of STEM education through project-based learning,” Mrs. Culbreth explains. “The goal in the Lower School is to begin teaching students the four C's of STEM - Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. We give them the foundation, and they build upon that as they transition to Middle School and Upper School.”

A New Epiphany

What Dr. Stevens loves most about her return to teaching is that ECS affords her the ability to integrate her faith into her teaching. “A lot of kids are afraid to try something if they don’t know they’re going to get it right. I tell them, ‘It’s okay to try and not get it right.’ Then I remind them, ‘If you don’t know what to do, what do you do? You do what you know.’ That is also true for life. I often encourage them with II Corinthians 5:7: ‘for we walk by faith, not by sight.’

I remind them, ‘If you don’t know what to do, what do you do? You do what you know.’ That is also true for life. I often encourage them with II Corinthians 5:7: ‘for we walk by faith, not by sight.’

“One day, we were doing a substitution problem in Honors Pre-Calculus, and I told my students you can only substitute a variable with a different variable if they’re equal. Suddenly, I had this epiphany that this was an excellent opportunity to explain the gospel: This is the whole reason Jesus had to be human – so he could be our substitute on the cross. Knowing equivalence helped me understand and share the gospel better.

“I absolutely love my job. I love getting to watch the kids gain understanding and confidence. I even like watching them get a little frustrated sometimes. If they don't get frustrated, they’re not going to grow. It’s all part of learning how to embrace the journey. That part is fun for me.”

[1] “Seven Facts about STEM Workforce” by Pew Research Center:

[2] “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, including Computer Science” by U.S. Department of Education:

Get to Know Dr. Shanan Stevens

  • Degrees:
    Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, Georgia Tech
    Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, Tennessee Tech
  • Experience:    
    Professor at Louisiana Tech - Taught Polymers, Mass Transfer, Controls Engineering, Reactor Design, Advanced Reactor Design, Membranes, and an Excel Class for Chemical Engineers
  • Current Profession:    
    ECS Math Department Chair, Instructor: AP Calculus, AP Statistics, Calculus with Pre-Calculus, Honors Pre-Calculus, Principles of Engineering
  • When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
    I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. When I was four years old, I wanted to be like my grandfather who was a college professor, and I thought that was really neat. I just didn't know what I wanted to teach. My mother recommended that I get a Chemical Engineering degree because she knew I always loved math- and science-related fields.
  • Why math?
    I love math for so many reasons: Problems work. There’s an answer. I like that part, but the one thing engineering had to break me of is that in life, given our limitations as humans, there is not always a nice pretty answer. But as engineers, your goal is to approach the answer. Learning how things work and applying that knowledge creatively in different ways interests me.