(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series exploring a new initiative, launched in Chattanooga that could soon find its way into other cities across Tennessee and the country. Today’s article explores Tech Town through the eyes of Murray Fenstermaker, its new “Curriculum Rock Star.”)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Louisiana native Paul Cummings did not have to look beyond his original hometown of New Orleans to find the curriculum guru he needed for Chattanooga’s new TechTown initiative.
Murray Fenstermaker had never been to Chattanooga when he was approached by Cummings to serve as the “Curriculum Rock Star” for the new year-round after school program. In fact, at the time, he was heavily involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives in the Crescent City.
“I worked to bring STEM into Katrina-damaged schools,” the Tulane University graduate told us. His undergraduate degree is in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Fenstermaker explained that he was passionate about science and technology when he left his native Baltimore to attend Tulane. During his college years, he says he realized he wanted to take that passion and use it to work with kids.
Fast forward a few years, and Fenstermaker was serving as New Orleans Program Director for MakerState, Inc., an organization that bills itself as giving “kids passion and skills in science, tech, engineering, arts and math for success in school, college and career through fun hands-on makerspaces.”
In that role, his duties included developing curriculum for after-school STEM programs, planning and running pop-up learning labs for kids in grades K through seven, managing a team of maker fellows and instructors, and teaching STEM through hands on experiments and play in classrooms.
Fenstermaker says he had no budget for his New Orleans work, so he had to look for free tools in areas like 3D animation and coding. In Chattanooga, Cummings and the TechTown backers are committed to a first class experience.
Since arriving in June, Fenstermaker says he has been consumed with “designing what we are going to teach and how.”
His initial work was designing and teaching in the two camps offered earlier this summer for 64 students.
“TechTown will not be a traditional classroom facility,” Fenstermaker says. “We will create every environment for learning . . . the student chooses.”
This approach translates into everything from “self-determined” learning to more formal courses. To assist the students, experts in key disciplines will be on location daily to assist the students. They will include specialists in coding, robotics, graphic design, 3D printing, and cinematography.
The year-round TechTown after school program launches in mid-spring in Downtown Chattanooga. For more information, click here.