CEF grant from AT&T boosts STEM

cef-logo-8.25.16-sBy Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Thanks to a grant from AT&T and some help from the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF),  Mercy Academy now owns a DJInspire2 Drone, which will enable the school to grow its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program.

The CEF facilitated the $10,000 grant through a partnership with the telecommunications company.  Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the CEF, said in an interview Oct. 10 that the foundation hopes to build partnerships with other companies to help other schools in a similar way.

This partnership with AT&T is only the beginning said Lechleiter.

“It gives people an opportunity to see what other companies can do to help other schools,” he said. “This is the start of something bigger. Other companies will follow their (AT&T’s) lead, I’m convinced of it.”

AT&T, Mercy and the CEF, which applied for the grant, announced the award at a press conference last month.

Kevin Woodward, director of development for the CEF, said the relationship between the CEF and AT&T Kentucky began about two years ago, when  the telecommunications company sponsored tables at CEF events.

AT&T’s philanthropic foundation — AT&T Aspire — became interested in making a STEM-program grant and Mercy was interested in obtaining a drone, so it was a good match, Woodward  noted.

The CEF applied for the grant and the funds were immediately made available to Mercy upon receipt, he said.

This is the first technology gift from AT&T to one of the archdiocese’s Catholic high schools, but the CEF hopes to continue that relationship with the telecommunications company, said Woodward, noting that the CEF is only allowed to apply once a year for an AT&T Aspire grant.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who was present at the press conference Sept. 22, said he’s “thrilled with this opportunity” for Mercy.

“There’s no better place to have this drone than with young, enthusiastic, creative and intelligent women, so Mercy is the perfect place,” he said.

Mercy’s drone and imaging components, purchased with the grant money, will be used mainly for STEM curriculum coursework. The drone will be deployed to survey a paleontology site at the Falls of the Ohio State Park where Mercy students are currently taking part in a geology project.

The equipment will also benefit the school’s business and broadcast programs, according to a press release from the CEF.

Abby Hans, a junior at Mercy, said at the press conference that learning the functions of the drone and how to fly it was “amazing.” Hans said Mercy teaches students to be innovative and to solve real-world problems. “It takes partnerships with companies like AT&T to make this possible,” she said.

Hood Harris, president of AT&T Kentucky, said during the press conference that the company uses similar drones daily to inspect cell phone towers. He noted that drones are being sent to Texas and Florida following Hurricanes Irma and Harvey to inspect the network so repairs can be made.

“What you’re doing is real-world,” said Harris to Mercy students at the event. “It’s leading-edge and I’m thrilled to think that one of you young ladies will learn about STEM and drones and maybe come to work and be a leader at AT&T.”

Lechleiter said students like those at Mercy are the “future workforce.”

“These young girls will be in our job market in a few short years,” he said. “They’ll be out looking for a career whether that’s here in Louisville or elsewhere and if they’ve developed those types of skills that employers are really hungry for, they can’t miss.”

AT&T Aspire planned to invest $350 million in education from 2008-2017 and has passed the $250 million mark so far, according to the press release from the CEF.

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