Students & Educators Share Best Practices and Grow Innovation at the Florida STEM Forum

Careers encompassing and integrating one, or more aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) have gained tremendous attention, and occupy a central role in molding a high-tech workforce. In the sunshine state, as in the rest of the country, focus on STEM education and training is at an all-time high. According to a recent report compiled by STEM Florida, STEM education is considered “an axial element within the economic development strategy for a globally competitive Florida.” (Source: STEM Florida Report).

Given this trajectory, FLATE—the National Science Foundation Center of Excellence in Manufacturing,
sponsored a full day STEM Forum for industry, educators and students at the 21st Florida Sterling Conference held in May, in Orlando, FL. The STEM Forum titled, Share Best Practices: Grow Innovation, served as a collaborative event to share, identify best practices and innovative approaches to prepare students primarily for high-tech manufacturing and STEM-related jobs. Attendees included a cross section of individuals from large and small manufacturing firms including Baldrige recipients, manufacturing and workforce associations, leaders from community colleges, state colleges, and career academies, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The STEM Forum served as an educationally rich experience for students and educators alike. Dale Toney, instructor at the engineering academy at Marion Technical Institute in Ocala, FL, applauded FLATE for its part in supporting secondary educators and students, and giving them the opportunity to interact with local industries. Topics discussed ranged from skill-based competencies, training, certification and credentialing to hiring preferences, career-development programs, partnerships with colleges and local schools, and engagement and articulation strategies. Carlos Arteaga, an 11th grader from Frank H. Peterson High School in Jacksonville, who was one the students FLATE sponsored to attend the Forum said the experience enhanced his understanding of engineering technology degrees offered at Florida colleges, and provided insight about STEM-based job opportunities in the region.

Partnering with the Manufacturers Association of Florida, Workforce Florida, and Hoerbiger Corporation,
FLATE also helped coordinate the Career Academy Panel Best Practices. The panel was facilitated by Dehryl McCall, director of Workforce Florida Inc., and included a cross section of educators from across the state. Kathy Schmidt, director for career & technical education (CTE) for St. Lucie County Public Schools provided an overview of CAPE academies, their current impact and future contribution to CTE in Florida. Dale Toney, Greg McGrew—a FLATE awardee, and Russ Henderlite, instructors at the engineering academies at Marion Technical Institute, Lakewood Ranch High School, and Treasure Coast High School respectively, provided information and best practices about the engineering programs/specializations at each of these high schools. They also briefed attendees about industry certifications offered at each of the schools, and local industry partners’ role in providing students with hands-on experience. "I was intrigued by the schedule component that Polk State College does, and will be looking into workforce connection for internships" Toney said.

Discussions were primarily focused on those areas of STEM education and training relevant to career 
academies in Florida, talent supply they are providing, skills/certifications earned, and where students are finding employment. “The Panel discussions helped me understand the value of earning industry certifications like the MSSC certification” said James Dempsey, an engineering student at Marion Technical Institute in Ocala, FL. Dempsey who has two MSSC Certifications in Safety Awareness and Quality Assurance plans on pursuing a degree in robotics at Florida Technical College.

For more information on the Sterling Conference visit www.floridasterling.com. For information on FLATE’s STEM related curriculum and professional development resources visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org.