Campus & Community

High school students zoom in on science at PBSC STEM Expo

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More than 400 students from Palm Beach County high school medical academies attended the STEM: Science Expo ’22 at Palm Beach State College’s Boca Raton campus Oct. 21 as part of ongoing initiatives to put those interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields on a solid academic path.

This was a collaborative collegewide event that featured science demonstrations and presentations by PBSC faculty, staff and students and other industry and university leaders, a showcase of the College’s STEM programs, admissions and advising information sessions, workshops on dual enrollment, information on student clubs and organizations and more.

With the projected shortfall of health care workers in Florida and around the country, PBSC and the School District of Palm Beach County are working more strategically with universities and industry partners to align their STEM programs and curriculums and create seamless academic pathways for students to succeed. According to the American Hospital Association, the U.S. will face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians alone by 2033. The organization also predicts that at least 200,000 nurses will need to be hired each year to meet increased demands and replace retiring nurses.

The STEM: Science Expo ‘22 targeted juniors and seniors from Palm Beach County’s 47 medical academies that operate at elementary, middle and high schools. Seniors in those academies will graduate high school with industry certifications in a variety of health care and public safety fields but understanding their postsecondary education options also is critical to their success.

“Students need exposure. When I was younger, you really did not have access to things like this. Now students have an opportunity to really embrace different opportunities so they can see what STEM can do for them,’’ said Germany Dixon, Ed.D., associate dean of academic affairs at the Boca Raton campus who helped organize the event. “They may understand what the acronym means but they don’t understand how to utilize it and how to maximize their opportunities. This gives them a chance to have a real glimpse visually about how STEM can enhance their future. We also are giving them an opportunity to look at higher education environments so that students have a much more well-rounded view and access to the associated STEM educational opportunities,” he said, noting nearby public and private universities like Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University and Nova Southeastern University. “Our most important goal is that students succeed.”

“STEM influences the development of our society, and this event is intended to showcase the robust and advanced programs Palm Beach State College has to offer and the support we provide students through their academic journey, with an emphasis on the importance of partnering with our community to educate, guide, and support our future leaders and economy,’’ added Dana Hamadeh, associate dean of academic affairs and coordinator of the event. “This would not have been possible without the support of PBSC leaders, the STEM Academic Community and the Boca Raton campus.”

Bridgette Ramos, a senior at Palm Beach Lakes High School, plans to graduate in the spring and have four industry certifications for certified clinical medical assistant, emergency medical responder, certified EKG technician and certified pharmacy technician.  She said she appreciated getting exposed to the higher education opportunities at PBSC and other schools and the hands-on experiences at the STEM Expo, particularly because she’s still deciding on a career in either pharmacy or occupational therapy.

“It shows me more hands-on experience on what I’m going to expect, what I already have and how I can use that to my own advantage,’’ she said. She had been to the Lake Worth campus but not the Boca Raton campus.

Miguel Benavente, M.D., oversees the medical academies under the school district’s Choice and Career Options department. He was on hand at the STEM Expo and agrees that it’s important to strengthen education and industry partnerships to grow the talent pool needed to meet the workforce demands today and in the future.

He said he’s been working more closely with Dixon regarding strengthening the partnerships.  “We have two leaders on both sides working together for the benefit of our students. We want to make sure our students are aware and know what we offer here, and they don’t have to go too far away.”

Jessica June, who teaches in the Medical Academy at Glades Central High School, was with more than 50 students who were bussed to the event.

“It helps enhance their knowledge and lets them know there are other options,’’ she said. “They can network and know if they don’t have a particular program at the Belle Glade campus, it may be available at another campus.”

Palm Beach Lakes teacher Claudine McFarlane accompanied about 50 students from her school. She said in addition to learning and networking at events like the STEM Expo, she encourages students to ensure the industry credentials they acquire in high school remain current even while in college. “They can always have a backup plan if their main plan does not work out.”

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