Foundation aims to help students prepare for high-tech, high-demand careers
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – the so-called STEM fields – are now commanding center stage, as public officials and education and industry leaders search for solutions to ensure economic competitiveness for the future.
Research from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology shows a need for nearly a million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade. To meet this goal, the United States will need to boost the number of students who receive undergraduate STEM degrees by about 34 percent annually over current rates. State and local leaders also have identified STEM as a key growth engine to expand and diversify Florida’s economic base.
Recognizing the need, the Palm Beach State College Foundation is launching an initiative to increase funding for scholarships to students pursuing education in these disciplines. The Foundation’s emphasis is STEM plus the arts, or STEAM, and in addition to scholarships, the initiative will seek support to ensure that STEAM programs are sustained at optimal levels and expanded as funding permits.
A community event planned for early 2013 will be the launch pad for the Foundation’s five-year STEAM initiative to support increased student access, retention and success through scholarships, internships, classroom enhancements and more. Working to raise almost $7 million during that time, the Foundation seeks to award 1,000 new scholarships, with a portion earmarked for young women pursuing careers in male-dominated science and tech fields. Funds also will be directed to the development of new instructional resources and internship opportunities.
Major gifts director Pat Lord is spearheading the initiative with the support of a team of community and business leaders. Lord points to recent reports from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Council of 100 identifying a shortage of highly skilled, highly educated workers, considered the most important resource for developing a strong, diversified economy. “At the current rates, nearly 1 million jobs will remain unfilled due to the estimated shortage of properly educated individuals. STEM is where the future jobs will be most plentiful, offering graduates multiple career opportunities and high salaries,” she said.
Dr. Peter Barbatis, vice president for student services and enrollment management, said STEM workers will drive the nation’s competitiveness by generating new ideas, businesses and industries. “Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs, and workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts,” he observed.
Community on board
Local business leaders and Foundation board members Yvonne Boice-Zucaro of Boca Raton and George Elmore of Delray Beach are co-chairing the Foundation’s STEAM team. Boice-Zucaro says she views such initiatives as critical to the nation’s success.
“I strongly believe that if we encourage our youth to make strides in these disciplines we will be able to create a new wave of innovation and prosperity,” she added. “Right now we are at a critical juncture; however, if we work diligently in the process of guiding our youth to make smart choices for their future, we ensure better lives for these students and a revitalized economy for our country and the world.”
Businesses engaged in STEM disciplines will be involved, along with industry leaders, private and public foundations, local philanthropists and individuals committed to improving education. The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County is lending its wholehearted support. President and CEO Kelly Smallridge points to Palm Beach State College’s designation as the Employ Florida Banner Center for Life Sciences as an indicator of the College’s reputation in STEM areas.
“Palm Beach State stands tall among our training and education centers,” Smallridge said. “The BDB is proud to be working with the College to create new and stronger partnerships that will lead to a stronger, better educated workforce.”
Running on STEAM
Palm Beach State students have a broad range of science and technology program options to consider as they choose their field of study and career goals. In addition to the Banner Center, the College offers cutting-edge programs in such areas as energy, information technology, environmental science and biotechnology. The College’s Institute for Energy and Enviromental Sustainability is meeting current and future community needs for a highly trained workforce in emerging green industry sectors, such as renewable and clean energy and smart grid operations. The Math and Science Institute offers a rigorous summer program in math, physics, environmental science and biotechnology for honors and advanced high school and college students. The College’s new bachelor’s degree in information management provides an advancement path for computer technology professionals.
In the recently launched Science Path program, Palm Beach State faculty are working with public high school teachers in an effort to better align curricula in biology and chemistry to increase student readiness for higher learning in subject areas considered the gateway to STEM careers. Readiness in other STEM-related coursework also will be put into focus through this collaboration, funded through a $375,000 Quantum Foundation grant.
With so much emphasis on STEM, why add arts into the mix? Simply put, STEAM reflects the importance of the liberal arts for the individual and the community. A liberal arts education helps students become well-rounded individuals with more than technical expertise, notes Dr. Sharon Sass, Palm Beach State’s vice president for academic affairs.
“We hear so many times from employers that they are looking for employees who not only come to them skilled in their profession, but who also can read, write and have an understanding of history and literature,” Sass explained. “To have a truly educated workforce who will be productive, contributing, civic-minded citizens who can think critically, we must provide a well-rounded education that includes math, science, literature, social sciences, communications and humanities in addition to the skill-based courses.”
That viewpoint resonates with STEAM committee member Greg Martini, president of GEM Marketing Consultants and a Palm Beach State alumnus. Martini says his studies at Palm Beach State helped to define who he is today. He considers the College the “workforce driver” for today’s high-tech careers. “South Florida’s biotech, engineering and energy providers keep Palm Beach State students keenly in their focus as a prime potential employee source for high-demand work that is being done today, as well as finding solutions in the future,” he said.
Palm Beach State College Foundation STEAM committee
George Elmore, Hardrives, Inc.
Yvonne Boice-Zucaro, Fugazy International Travel, Inc.
Greg Martini, GEM Marketing Consultants
Kelly Smallridge, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County
Yvonne Boice-Zucaro, Fugazy International Travel
Dr. Sharon Sass, Vice President for Academic Affairs;
Dr. Ginger Pedersen, Dean of Curriculum and Educational Technology, Palm Beach State College