The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District is one of just two in Minnesota to receive a lucrative federal grant that will expand STEM programming and provide a clear path for high school students to make the transition to college and the workforce.

The district will use the $2.99 million Youth Career Connect grant to turn Apple Valley High into a school with a dedicated science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus over the next four years.

St. Paul is the other Minnesota district receiving the competitive grant, established by the departments of Labor and Education.

"I am proud that two of our state's school districts were selected by President Obama and the U.S. Department of Labor to spearhead this national movement to strengthen career preparation for our youth," Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement.

Cathy Kindem, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan's director of innovative programming, said the district was "very thrilled" to receive the funding, along with 23 others from across the country.

"Perhaps you've heard the quote, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' " Kindem said. "I think this particular grant is one that recognizes all the important partners that need to come together … to transform a high school experience for today's students."

It will allow 100 students each year to explore STEM careers, especially those in computer science and engineering, and earn credit at Dakota County Technical College and Inver Hills Community College while taking classes in high school.

Both colleges are partners, along with the Dakota-Scott Workforce Investment Board.

Over four years, two in high school and two in college, students will receive support services, like tutoring and career counseling, have the chance to take Saturday, evening and summer enrichment classes, and participate in mentoring and internship programs with six Minnesota businesses: Thomson Reuters, Dakota Electric, Delta Air Lines, Lockheed Martin, Stream Global and Uponor.

"I think one of the things that set our grant apart was our [community and industry] partners," Kindem said.

Teachers will receive training to help them prepare students for high-tech careers or college coursework, and the grant will provide money to build a "Fab Lab," or fabrication lab, with a 3-D printer, laser cutters and other tools.

The grant's requirements align with several educational trends, including preparing students in the academic middle for jobs and getting students to take college classes in high school, said Michael Bolsoni, Apple Valley High's assistant principal.

"Even though we teach a lot of subjects in high school, I don't know that the careers were always obvious or that the paths were always lined up," he said.

The district already has elementary and middle schools — Cedar Park and Valley Middle School — that are STEM-focused, so the designation for Apple Valley High is a way for those students to continue that emphasis, Bolsoni said.

After four years, the district plans to maintain the STEM programming at Apple Valley. Other district high schools may also follow suit, Kindem said.

Partnerships are key

The program will be open to any interested students, but one goal is to get participants from underrepresented groups involved — girls, students of color, those in the academic middle and low-income students.

Many details haven't been finalized, but partnerships with Minnesota businesses will be a key part of the effort, Bolsoni said.

The Department of Labor became involved with the grant to challenge schools and industry to work together to train more American workers to fill the many open positions in STEM fields.

Currently, many STEM jobs are filled by workers from other countries who come here on visas, because there aren't enough qualified people here, Bolsoni said.

Thomson Reuters "was pleased to be asked to be part of the support network required for the grant," said Michele Engdahl, director of government relations.

They are always looking for employees with a STEM background — and those people can be hard to find in Minnesota.

"The Twin Cities market is experiencing virtually full technology employment," she said.

The company already works with the district on mentorships and internships and to offer classes in areas like software coding, she said. It will expand those efforts as part of the grant.

"We have a lot as a company to learn from these kids, whose whole point of view has been shaped by technology," Engdahl said.