Sen. Al Franken visits Tartan, praises STEM

U.S. Sen. Al Franken poses with Tartan seniors Barkot Berhanu, left, and Hannah Lee in the school’s student-run credit union Feb. 19. Lee and Berhanu told the senator what they had learned about finances through the school’s financial literacy program. (Joshua Nielsen / Review)
U.S. Sen. Al Franken poses with Tartan seniors Barkot Berhanu, left, and Hannah Lee in the school’s student-run credit union Feb. 19. Lee and Berhanu told the senator what they had learned about finances through the school’s financial literacy program. (Joshua Nielsen / Review)
Sen. Franken has a chat with Tartan Science Teacher Matthew Duffee in the school’s chemistry lab Feb. 19. Some of Duffee’s students demonstrated how to chemically treat pennies to change them to brass.  (Joshua Nielsen / Review)
Sen. Franken has a chat with Tartan Science Teacher Matthew Duffee in the school’s chemistry lab Feb. 19. Some of Duffee’s students demonstrated how to chemically treat pennies to change them to brass. (Joshua Nielsen / Review)
Tartan Principal Adam Ehrmantraut welcomed Sen. Al Franken to the high school on Feb. 19. Franken was at Tartan to meet with local business leaders, teachers and students about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.
Tartan Principal Adam Ehrmantraut welcomed Sen. Al Franken to the high school on Feb. 19. Franken was at Tartan to meet with local business leaders, teachers and students about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.

“Are you rich now? Are you up to some kind of pyramid scheme?” U.S. Sen. Al Franken asked the two girls at Tartan High School’s student-run credit union branch.

Seniors Hannah Lee and Barkot Berhanu took the former comedian’s quips in stride, staying on message with their explanation of how the credit union is part of a schoolwide focus on financial literacy. Lee listed budgeting, building credit and how to apply for loans as part of the students’ lesson plan.

Franken agreed that financial management should be learned early in life, and said all students should take financial literacy and math courses in conjunction, to help keep them from making poor choices later on.

At the credit union, Lee and Berhanu giggled at the Congressman’s jibes, but weren’t forthcoming with cash. When he asked “So, could I borrow, say, $3,000?” they said they could give him a loan application.

During the Feb. 19 visit, Franken and metro business leaders toured Tartan’s STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- classrooms and talked with teachers who work with the curriculum. The senator also visited

Tartan’s metals fabrication classroom and chemistry lab.

Franken told the Review he was impressed with the high school’s STEM education programs.

“They seem to be on the right track. The fabrication lab is good for developing manufacturing skills and the FIRST Robotics I just love,” he said. “It gives you a great feeling seeing all this.”  

The senator was a hit with students and he spoke with several during his brief visit to the school.

On part of the tour, Franken was accompanied by Jamice Obianyo, community relations director, at Ecolab in St. Paul, and Marnie Falk, Gillette Children’s Specially Healthcare Director of Public Relations. The two women told students in a chemistry class that what they were learning in class has real-world applications.

“We are thrilled to be here. We look to you as our future employees,” Obianyo said. “We employ from all disciplines of STEM, from two-year, four-year and graduate level grads.”

Falk said the majority of jobs opening up at Gillette also require a STEM education background.

Narrowing the skills gap

Sen. Franken has been working to find solutions to narrow the nation’s skills gap, which he said has left U.S. employers with more than 3 million job openings they cannot fill, due to a lack of potential empoyees with the necessary skills.

“We have serious problems in our country and one of them is income,” he told the Review. “These 3-and-a-half million jobs are high quality, good paying jobs.”

Franken sees STEM education skills as critical to getting students better prepared, and noted that U.S schools are lagging behind many countries in the developed world in science, math and technology.

He recently reintroduced a bill in the Senate known as the “STEM Master Teacher Corps Act,” that is designed to better prepare students for today’s job market by providing support to school districts that offer STEM education programs. The Act would provide pay increases to the best STEM educators, who in turn would mentor other educators to improve their abilities. Franken first introduced the bill in the Senate in 2011 and reintroduced it Feb. 5.

When asked what could be done to help the many school districts facing budget cuts due to rising costs, declining enrollment and revenues—such as in District 622—Franken responded that while the federal government needs to make additional investments in education, people must support their local school district by approving tax levy referendums.

Joshua Nieslen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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