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JROTC STEM Leadership Academy: Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow



Mobile County’s JROTC STEM Leadership Academy, which has spread to schools across the country, is making a positive impact on students locally as well as in Dothan, Atlanta and San Diego, according to a new study.


The six-day academy immerses students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) activities such as robotics, provides field trips to local industry so students can learn about local STEM careers, and allows students to participate in physical activities including rappelling, drownproofing, orienteering, and more.


Under the leadership of Lt. Col. Robert “Frank” Barrow, MCPSS launched the first JROTC STEM Leadership Academy in 2015. Due to its success, the academy received a grant of $1 million from the National Science Foundation in 2018 to continue to the program in Mobile. In 2021, the academy received a grant of nearly $6 million from the Department of Defense to expand the camp to other schools throughout the U.S.


In 2024, the JROTC STEM Leadership Academy will add three additional replication sites: Lee County, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Mesquite Independent School District in Texas. In 2025, the last year of the grant, the Academy will expand by four more districts – a total of 10 academies at 10 districts.


Barrow noted the importance of having funding in place to support the program in the future. “As I near retirement, I want to encourage US Army Cadet Command to help formalize funding for sustainment of these unique and extremely valuable educational opportunities for our JROTC cadets,” he said. “We must get the biggest bang for the buck as we continue to teach our young people to not only become better citizens, but also show them the pathway to the wonderful opportunities that await them if they apply themselves in school.”


The Mobile County Leadership Academy enrolled 145 cadets from 14 high schools. To raise awareness of how STEM is used in the region’s manufacturing industry, the academy arranged visits to Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, SSAB Americas Steel, BASF Chemical Corp., Alabama Power Co.’s Barry Electric Generating Plant, and the Advanced Manufacturing Center at Bishop State Community College. Pre- and post-assessments showed that cadets’ awareness of and interest in local STEM jobs increased. At the end of the academy, 53% of cadets strongly agreed that there are good-paying, local STEM jobs, compared to 24% of cadets at the beginning of the academy. The cadets were assessed on their ability to describe various industry/lab jobs pre- and post-assessment, showing improvements of 20% to 80% after the site visits.


The cadets applied the STEM concepts of simple and complex machines, gear and gear ratios, inverse relationships (lifting force vs. speed) and the engineering design process during their team design challenges. Pre- and post-assessment results indicated that cadets achieved statistically significant gains in STEM content knowledge overall, with gains in math and science being greatest. An 11th-grader from Citronelle High School described how one team rose to the challenge: “… we had to change our robot’s design and used the engineering design process to identify the problem, work with it, and work our way back around. That’s the way engineers operate!”


The Dothan academy enrolled 98 cadets from 13 high schools. Cadets visited Lockheed Martin, KW Container, Rex Lumber, and Alabama Aviation College. After the site visits, the number of cadets able to describe various industry/lab jobs pre- and post-assessment showed improvements of 40% to 50%. At the end of the academy, 53% of cadets strongly agreed that there are good-paying, local STEM jobs, compared to 26% of cadets at the beginning of the academy.


The San Diego academy enrolled 140 cadets from 13 high schools. Cadets visited General Atomics, the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center, and the U.S. Coast Guard. After the site visits, the number of cadets able to describe various industry/lab jobs pre- and post-assessment showed improvements of 20% to 58%. At the end of the academy, 43% of cadets strongly agreed that there are good-paying, local STEM jobs, compared to 23% of cadets at the beginning of the academy.


The Georgia academy enrolled 120 cadets from 25 high schools. Cadets visited Columbus Waterworks System, Panasonic, Delta, Hartsfield International Airport, Clay National Guard, and Lockheed Martin. After the site visits, the number of cadets able to describe various industry/lab jobs pre- and post-assessment showed improvements of 20% to 60%. At the end of the academy, 94% of cadets strongly agreed that there are good-paying, local STEM jobs, compared to 82% of cadets at the beginning of the academy.


The cooperation of Mobile school and city officials was a key factor in bringing the Leadership Academy to fruition, Barrow said. “Thank you to the City of Mobile, our Mobile County Commissioners, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, our School District’s Leadership Team, and our business and industry partners,” he said. “The Mobile County Public School System has a right to be proud of being a model for the nation. I am so blessed to have such a great team, and it is an honor to work with such professionals.”


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