HDR Foundation Grant: Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation

HDR Foundation Helping School District Pick Up STEAM

Jim Carnahan has put three children through the Apollo-Ridge school system. He served five years as a school board director where he played an active role in approving the district's curriculum. Now, Carnahan has found one more way to help Apollo-Ridge.

The HDR Foundation has given a $15,000 grant to the Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation to purchase VEX Robotics kits to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for eighth-grade students. Apollo-Ridge, located in the western Pennsylvania town of Spring Church, has made a push to offer more STEM education in recent years.

Carnahan, HDR's transportation business group manager out of the Pittsburgh office, was the employee sponsor for the Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation's grant application.

"The special thing about Apollo-Ridge is it is a small district, roughly 1,600 students K-12," Carnahan said. "It's very community-focused and has very responsive parents. The district does great with the limited funds it has. This is predominately an agricultural area, so many of these students aren't really exposed to STEM, so it's important for the district to introduce these things and let them see there are these areas out there."

He said that the school has been repurposing the middle school library into the "STEAM Center," which engages students in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation has played a major role in advancing that curriculum, raising more than $43,000 with the help of the grant from the HDR Foundation.

"The Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation is a group of community members and school administrators established to help the district accomplish academic goals," Carnahan said. "The new center is a place to provide classrooms and lectures related to STEM, so the robotics program is a part of that — a key part. Robotics is introduced in more of a lab setting — hands-on and interactive — and honestly it is pretty costly. It's been a big part of the STEM program that the district has envisioned, and the HDR Foundation is helping them reach that goal."

The VEX Robotics kits that the HDR Foundation has funded will be incorporated into the curriculum designed by Project Lead the Way, an organization that specializes in delivering hands-on STEM education for K-12 students. The kits are similar to Erector Sets in that they can be taken apart after each use and reassembled again later, so one kit can be used year after year. Apollo-Ridge will feature this as a rotating, nine-week course for eighth graders.

"I think the key for STEM education is to introduce this at the right time in a student's career," Carnahan said. "And I think eighth grade is where the district realized that this type of curriculum can be successful."

The district hopes that establishing the robotics curriculum will inspire these students to take more advanced math and science courses in high school and motivate them to ultimately consider pursuing careers in STEM. With a tight budget, Apollo-Ridge has had to be very strategic in how it spends its money.

Carnahan, who served on the school board from 2006 to 2011, knows firsthand the difficulties that presents. However, he says that the culture in the district makes it much easier.

"My experience has been that everyone in the district is very focused on the students, and everyone is passionate about the education of those kids," he said. "I think the faculty could make more money in another district, but they're devoted to those students."

The HDR Foundation has helped alleviated some of those stresses. The Apollo-Ridge Education Foundation was one of four grant recipients in the HDR Foundation's first round of 2016 small grants, which are designated as $15,000 or less. Read more about each of these grant recipients.

About HDR

HDR has partnered with clients to shape communities and push the boundaries of what's possible since 1917. We specialize in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services. With nearly 10,000 employees in more than 225 locations around the world, we think global and act local.

About the HDR Foundation

The HDR Foundation was founded in 2012 and has provided more than half a million dollars in grants to local organizations — fueled by donations from HDR employees. We provide grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, federally recognized tribal governments, and to political subdivisions. Our giving is targeted to the communities in which our employees live and work, and to organizations where HDR employees are highly active. Grant recipients are also required to align with HDR's areas of focus, which include education, healthy communities and bettering the environment.