PBSC President Ava Parker talks STEM education at Urban League youth empowerment event
Palm Beach State College President Ava L. Parker, J.D., spoke on “The Future of STEM Education” as the keynote speaker at the Urban League of Palm Beach County’s 12th Annual Youth Empowerment Breakfast at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport.
Parker was introduced at the Dec. 7 breakfast by Leah St. Hilaire, a Suncoast High School and National Urban League Incentives To Excel & Succeed (NULITES) student.
Parker thanked the Urban League for its community support and focus on STEM education, noting that while STEM careers comprise the fastest growing employment sectors with the highest earning potential, African Americans and other minority groups are underrepresented in the fields, with the exception of health-related STEM occupations. She also noted that people of color only represent 5% of engineers and architects and 7% of those who have an occupation using computers.
“It used to be that a college degree was this great equalizer,” Parker said. “However, what often happens in minority communities is that a parent will have this feeling that if they give their child the opportunity for education, then they will have an opportunity for success. While that remains true, the goal post has moved just a little bit. It’s not just that you give them the education, but you really need to start thinking about what they major in and understand that a STEM education is the thing that provides this greater opportunity.”
Parker shared that PBSC is committed to solving these equity gaps in STEM education through a number of ways, including its Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler Equity Institute.
Through the Institute, PBSC brings a research-based interdisciplinary approach to implement changes that will benefit students by solving the challenges and removing barriers that too often prevent minority students from completing their education.
“We start with college readiness and dual enrollment programs in the high schools and offer summer programs that expose students to college education and career pathways. By the time high school students complete the summer bridge program, they have a clear focus on their career goals and how to attain them.”
Parker also noted that according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in STEM fields is projected to grow at double the rate of all other occupations. She pointed out that The Pew Research Center reports that the bulk of job gains in STEM occupations are projected to occur in two STEM clusters: Nearly 1 million new jobs are projected among healthcare practitioners and technicians, and roughly 600,000 among computer workers.
“This is important for us to keep in mind because one thing we do know is that our kids have figured out how to work every video game there is in town. So that means we know that that knowledge can be transitioned to a computer scientist if we just show them some computer scientists to emulate.”
Parker also discussed PBSC’s expansion of its STEM education through new partnerships like the $1 million Collaborative Cyber Pathway Project grant with the School District of Palm Beach County that allows PBSC to enhance technology instruction and resources in local high schools, as well as a new partnership with the University of Florida and several other colleges to share Artificial Intelligence course materials and incorporate them into existing curriculum.
For the teachers, community leaders and business leaders in attendance, Parker also shared her thoughts on how to inspire students to pursue STEM careers.
“We must educate them about the various occupations and the pathways to these fields, the outcomes such as earnings, and the benefits of lifelong professional development. We must identify successful individuals in these fields who look like our students to help students visualize themselves in a STEM career.”
Some examples Parker gave included Mark Dean, an African American computer scientist and engineer who shaped the future of personal computing as a lead engineer at IBM and Mae C. Jemison, an American Astronaut and physician who was the first African American woman admitted into NASA’s Astronaut Training Program.
Even though STEM jobs were the focus of Parker’s speech, she noted that any credential post high school matters.
“Any credential is going to ensure you economic mobility and that is something as leaders and educators in this community that we are most concerned about.”
Others who spoke at the event included Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the ULPBC who gave opening and closing remarks; WPTV News Channel 5 anchor/reporter Tania Rogers, who served as the mistress of ceremonies; and ULPBC Board of Directors Chairman Ricky Wade.
Franklin, who thanked Parker for speaking and supporting the Urban League’s mission, said, “Nothing else matters when it comes to the education of our kids, and we are going to really specialize in that area in 2023. Technology is going to bring us forward. Technology is the path, and we must do whatever we can to make sure our students are prepared to get to PBSC, FAU, UF and wherever else they may go, even Harvard. We can’t let our students go forward being afraid of math and science.”
This is the second time Parker has been the keynote speaker at an Urban League of Palm Beach County event. To see photos from the event, please view the Flickr album.