DIG partnership expands STEM impact

  • Williston-Elko High School teacher Christie Palladino (right) leads a forensic science experiment at the DIG afterschool program in December 2017.

A new partnership is allowing a Williston organization to DIG deeper into the community.

The Dreams, Imagination & Gift (DIG) Development Program was started in 2013 by Williston native Steven Brown. Though he now calls Greenville home, he started DIG as a way to give back to his hometown after noticing how children in rural areas lack the same resources and opportunities as their peers in bigger cities.

Promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to students is one core focus because Brown wants to create a “pipeline” to local industries, which seek highly-qualified employees, such as engineers. DIG does this through its mentoring program for high school students, afterschool STEAM program, summer camp and annual STEM Festival in downtown Williston.

“We want to dig deep and pursue something different. We try to base everything so kids can relate to real life,” he said of the activities and programs they provide, such as crime scene investigation and computer coding.

A new partnership with the South Carolina Coalition of Mathematics and Science (SCCMS) at Clemson University will help promote STEM in Barnwell County and surrounding communities. Barnwell native Shelby Williams, who volunteered at last summer’s camp, was hired in October 2017 as the SCCMS’s STEM Community Outreach Coordinator for the region but also is DIG’s program director.

“I want to provide opportunities for them that I didn’t have,” said Williams, who is completing her Master’s in Public Administration. She is based out of the Clemson Extension office in Blackville.

The partnership has created the DIG STEM Collaborative which seeks to “engage the region’s stakeholders to advance STEM, bolster the STEM workforce, and establish the Central Savannah River region as a leader in STEM education,” stated a press release.

Shortly after launching DIG, Brown met representatives from the SCCMS at a STEM event in Spartanburg. Later that year the Coalition hosted the Imagine Upstate STEM Festival in Greenville, which inspired Brown. DIG hosted its first STEM Festival in Williston in 2015, which attracted 2,000 people.

SCCMS, which is an alliance of partnering organizations and initiatives, partnered with DIG because the two organizations share similar interests. The Central Savannah River Area wasn’t represented by the SCCMS, so the partnership with DIG made sense instead of creating a new center.

While Barnwell County will remain the headquarters and a focus area, the partnership will expand DIG to Allendale, Aiken and Bamberg counties. They plan to start holding STEM workshops and professional development for teachers aimed at incorporating STEM into classrooms.

“The partnership between these two organizations will bring about great change in the CSRA and surrounding areas by helping to form a collaborative group of business/industry, education, government, and community leaders working jointly to increase awareness of the role of STEM in today’s society,” stated the release.

Exposing students to STEM in and outside of the classroom is vital because as the demand for STEM careers grows so does the need for more workers with high-level knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math. “The DIG STEM Collaborative will assist the area schools, industries, and organizations with the demand for STEM exposure,” according to the release.

The first major event for DIG and SCCMS will be DIG’s 4th Annual STEM Festival on April 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. along Main Street in Williston. Sponsors, partners and exhibitors are needed to make the festival a success. Brown said they especially want to see more local STEM-related businesses and industries participate.

“We want to get the whole county involved,” he said.

Brown said he’s seen the impact DIG has had on students, including inspiring them to pursue STEM careers. The mother of one boy told Brown her son had never expressed what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he now wants to be a chemical engineer because of his participation with DIG.

“I love it when I’m able to see it click,” said Williams of seeing students comprehend a topic they are learning.

During DIG’s summer camp, which had a waiting list last year, Brown said students are excited to learn and actually want to do it.

For more information contact the SCCMS and DIG STEM Collaborative office at info@digdp.org or (803) 284-3343, ext. 241. You can also visit www.digdp.org.