Ponte Vedra Beach resident seeks support for startup STEM education efforts

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A Ponte Vedra Beach resident is seeking investors for an equity crowdfunding campaign to support her education technology startup in its mission to improve STEM (Science, Math, Engineering and Math) education in the United States.

“We’re looking for generous people who want to help education and want to support teachers,” said Tyler Gerhart Wood, president and chief marketing officer of Cogent Education, who previously worked at Apple as a senior marketing manager within its education division.

Based in Athens, Georgia, Cogent Education works directly with high school teachers to develop digital simulations that allow students to act like real scientists and tackle challenging concepts. Founded by a group of scientists and clinicians at the University of Georgia a decade ago, the company has been largely supported by state funding and National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) grants.

Unable to use those grants for anything outside of research and development of the company’s curriculum, Cogent Education has launched an equity crowdfunding campaign via Growth Fountain to raise additional capital for marketing and sales initiatives to reach more science teachers and students.

Growth Fountain allows individuals to provide funding to a company and in return, they receive securities and become investors and owners. “It’s a revenue share opportunity,” said Wood. “Investors gain a financial interest and can support a great cause.”

Wood explained that investors in her company’s campaign are helping to solve a problem in America: The United States is ranked 25th in the world in science education and 48th in STEM education overall, she said, citing the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the World Economic Forum, respectively. Cogent Education is working to change that trend by empowering students to connect to complex, scientific concepts in a more interactive and relatable way.

Instead of focusing on the memorization of facts for tests, the company’s software-based case studies allow students to become veterinarians tasked with saving the life of a calf that is having seizures, or pediatricians responsible for curing a baby’s disease. Wood explained that the simulations enable students of all learning levels, including those who previously “checked out” and scored Cs and Ds, to ultimately understand the material better.

“It’s not just reading about some random thing,” said Wood, whose company’s case studies are currently being used by more than 300 schools in 28 states. “They really feel like when they’re in the case that they’re fixing Clark the calf. They’ll tell the teachers, ‘I feel like you’re giving me meaningful work for the first time.’”

Judibelle Roman, an AP biology teacher at St. Johns Country Day School in Orange Park, has been teaching with Cogent Education’s case studies for two years, and she said her students not only learn from the experience but also enjoy it. She noted that the simulations reinforce the material she teaches every day in the classroom, while also empowering her students to apply their learnings to real life scenarios. In doing so, she said they must use the scientific method to think through the simulation, form a hypothesis about the problem and independently work through the situation like a professional scientist in a lab-like setting.

And not only do the digital tools help students prepare for careers in science, said Wood, they help them develop the problem solving and critical thinking skills that are necessary for any career, and for life in general.

For a school to use the company’s 15 biology case studies for a full year costs approximately $5 per student. In addition to the simulations, the company features a real-time data system for teachers called SABLE, which enables them to see how their students are thinking throughout the simulations and measure the development of their critical thinking skills. The company also offers professional development services to help teachers include the problem-solving products within their lessons.

Cogent Education currently offers simulations solely for biology teachers, but Wood said the company is planning to use the investments from the Growth Fountain campaign to also develop a complete high school science suite, including curriculum for chemistry and physics. “We’re very excited about finishing off what we started,” said Wood, who added that AT&T recently invested in the company for its Aspire Accelerator program aimed at bringing technology-based learning programs to schools. “We can continue to work with federal funding; it just takes a very long time. We know schools need it now.”

Cogent Education’s Growth Fountain campaign will continue until July. To contribute, visit invest.cogenteducation.com .

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