Global Impact STEM Academy celebrates a decade of successes

When Global Impact STEM Academy first opened its doors almost a decade ago, it fulfilled the goal of local leaders to open a public school focused on science, technology, engineering and math, similar to those in other regions of Ohio.

“What makes us unique as a STEM school is the specific industry focus that came with it,” says Joshua Jennings, the superintendent and founding director of the school.

That focus on agriculture, food, natural resources and bioscience has given students a leg up in related careers since the first class was welcomed in fall 2013. Soon, students also will have opportunities in aerospace and aviation technology thanks to plans to develop a niche curriculum in these emerging fields as well.

A school like GISA promotes economic development and attracts businesses to the area because of the potential workforce, Jennings says. And as students receive advanced degrees, they will have more opportunities to work and live in the community where they grew up.

“That is our hope and goal,” he says.

But the school, which is home to grades 7 to 12, attracts more students than only those who are interested in agricultural careers.

“We serve all types of students,” Jennings says.

Some start with no idea what, for example, food science involves, but fall in love with it and seek a career in the field. Still others move on to college majors in the arts and humanities. But all of them, Jennings says, are exposed to opportunities and a learning model that benefits them whatever their future holds.

The school has proven popular.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the waitlist numbered more than 100, Jennings says. Even during the pandemic, when the school wasn’t able to offer in-person events to introduce the school to others, the list numbered around 50.

Those waitlist pressures might ease with the expected opening in fall 2024 of a new upper academy for grades 10 through 12 at Clark State College’s East Leffel Lane campus. GISA’s main campus, at 700 S. Limestone St., would expand to include sixth grade. While no grade exceeds 125 students now, the goal is to grow that number to 180 students per grade, Jennings says.

Another new initiative is the plan to expand the school’s niche to include aerospace and aviation technology. These fields already impact agriculture in areas such as drone and precision technologies, Jennings explained in a letter to GISA families.

Horton Hobbs, the school’s board president and the vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Partnership, calls it the “right thing” and the “right time” to develop the curriculum. The expansion opens up additional opportunities for students at a school that already is attractive to businesses that are interested in the area.

“It’s a game changer for us in terms of working with food-related companies and agriculture-related companies,” he says.

The workforce is a driver for companies, Hobbs says, and the school has shown that it prepares students with practical skills that are transferable.

“In many ways it’s an industry laboratory that we leverage to demonstrate that we’re preparing a future workforce in STEM – food and agriculture, and now aerospace,” he says.

More than a third of the school’s graduating seniors earn an associate’s degree at the same time as their high school diploma, Jennings says, and 38 of last year’s 91 graduates received an honors diploma. The class received a total of $2.3 million in college scholarships, and students are attending more than 30 different colleges and universities across the country.

Students at the school, which is open to anyone in Ohio, are selected via a random lottery, with no merit-based prerequisites. The student body represents 20 school districts in five counties – Clark, Champaign, Greene, Madison and Montgomery. Of the almost 700 students enrolled, between 10 and 12 percent come from outside of Clark County, Jennings says.

GISA students are eligible to participate in athletics in their home school districts, and the school day is structured to give them time to return to those schools for practices and events, Jennings says.

The school also offers activities such as band, symphony, choir, drama and a popular and competitive esports team, he says. What’s more, students are encouraged to approach a teacher if they have an idea for a new group, such as a dissection club that was organized in the past.

“We are an ag-based school, but there are so many other things you can do there that aren’t ag-based,” says Riley Champ, a junior at GISA who enrolled at the school when she was in 7th grade.

The 16-year-old German Township resident has taken college classes since last spring, while friends at another school are in math, science and English classes that she took a year or two ago, she says.

She also has completed courses like ag business and is enrolled in FFA, like all students at the school. But there are plenty of activities at the school that aren’t related to agriculture, from music to crochet, she says.

Champ wants to major in nursing and says labs in subjects like biology and bioresearch have given her a taste of what to expect in the future.

“It’s showing me what it would be like to research in the real world, which is really cool to me,” she says.
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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.