STEM Family Night Gives Local Students & Parents’ a 360 Perspective of High-Tech Careers & Educational Pathways

FLATE has a vast network of partners that works closely with the Center in formulating STEM-based
programs that are geared to reach out to diverse groups of students and educators across Florida. One such partnership culminated in Fall 2015 when FLATE was invited to be part of this elite STEM ecosystem. The Tampa Bay STEM Network (TBSN) is part of a national Community of Practice led by the White House-initiated STEM Funders Network to support STEM education and nurture learning opportunities for students, and is the only recognized STEM ecosystem of its kind in Florida and in the Southeast. The project which “was built on over a decade of research into successful STEM collaborations,” is building momentum in greater Tampa Bay, and has a number of outreach strategies that targets underprivileged youth by creating an educational ecosystem.

In keeping with some of its targeted outreach goals, Tampa Bay STEM Network, the Alliance for Public
Schools at the School District of Hillsborough County, Moffitt Cancer Center partnered with FLATE and Hillsborough Community College’s Brandon campus to host a STEM-themed family night for middle and high school students from the School District of Hillsborough County. Students and their families from Jennings Middle Schools, McLane Middle School, Armwood and Brandon high schools were invited to attend the STEM Family Night on December 6. FLATE and HCC took a leading role in formulating a stimulating program designed to stir students (and their parents’) interest in Manufacturing, and educate them about STEM related careers and educational pathways.

STEM Family night served as an information session for all attendees on various STEM based programs
offered by the School District of Hillsborough County and how these programs are aligned with the FLATE-created A.S degree in Engineering Technology degree and other STEM related A.S programs offered at Hillsborough Community College. Students and parents also got to meet face-to-face with local manufacturers. Roy Sweatman, president & CEO of Southern Manufacturing Technologies, a high-tech manufacturer in Tampa spoke to attendees about career opportunities in manufacturing available at SMT and the educational credentials required to secure those positions. Dr. Nancee Sorenson, President of HCC Brandon Campus and Dr. Alessandro Anzalone, Dean of A.S. degree programs at HCC in Brandon also highlighted various programs at HCC and how these programs prepare students with the necessary educational and technical skills-set sought by high-tech manufacturers like SMT. “Everyone should bring their kids to such programs so they can expand their knowledge base about the resources, programs and careers that are available locally here in Tampa Bay” said Liza who was attending the event with her son, Matthew, who is a student at Brandon High School in Brandon, FL.

As a facilitator and a co-host of the STEM family night, FLATE took a leading role in setting-up various
stations for students to tour FLATE/HCC’s state-of-the-art engineering technology lab. During the tour students got a first-hand understanding about engineering technology concepts and how these are applied in high-tech operations. Attendees were separated into four groups and rotated through eight stations that included several demonstrations. Michell Puentes, current engineering technology student at HCC and FLATE project assistant gave a demo of the robotic arm and electrical motors. Michell’s presentation centered on providing students/parents a hands-on understanding of robotics and also its real-world applications in manufacturing operations. Michell demonstrated how students can use the teach pendant and the software to program a robotic arm. “The process of discovery is what fascinates me about STEM” said Rachel who currently attends Brandon High School. “It is important to know about these technologies and educational options so you don’t limit yourself” Rachel said.

STEM family night also included an up-close meeting with Brandon, FLATE’s humanoid robot. Jesse
Kokotek, FLATE curriculum coordinator who brings years of real-world experience building and programming robots gave a demonstration highlighting robots’ potential as an educational tool, and how robots are an extension of how STEM concepts are applied in the real world. “My son enjoyed the demo of the NAO robot. What we saw with the robot and how they had to troubleshoot to make it work is relevant in everyday situations as well” Liza said.

In addition of the NAO robot, engineering technology instructors at HCC, Ron Smith and Shirley Dobbins
gave a hands-on demo of the 3D printer and SolidWorks. HCC students from the engineering program showcased some of their work with the electric car and showed attendees how to operate programmable logic controllers. “What I enjoyed about tonight was the demo of Brandon, the humanoid robot” said McKinsey, a student at Mulrennan Middle School. As part of the tour, students also got to meet and greet local manufacturers, and toured HCC’s state-of-the-art Biotechnology lab in Brandon. " We try our best to make science fun and exciting for our K-12 students by encouraging their natural curiosity about the world and teaching them how to find answers themselves"  Debrati Ghosh, program manager for the biotechnology program at HCC. During the biotechnology lab tour students/parents got a to see first-hand a display of DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify the suspect. Through this process students were also able to witness the transformation of bacteria with flow protein and the aseptic practices in the world of tissue culture. "Together it was the recipe for getting learners excited about and interested in the science of learning that will follow them in their future" Ghosh said. 

Both students and parents deemed highly informative. “There is value in learning new things” said Michelle, who was attending the event with her daughter, Rachel. She further added that is it is important for her daughter and others students to make a connection and see first-hand what they are studying in school is relevant and how it is being applied in the real world and in high-tech industries.

STEM family night was the first of its kind co-hosted by FLATE, but is part of a series of STEM-themed
events that are scheduled at various locations across Hillsborough County. “We are glad parents and students overwhelmingly deemed the tour valuable in learning about FLATE/HCC’s engineering technology degree, its workforce programs and the local industries they support” said Dr. Marilyn Barger, Executive Director of FLATE who is at the helm in leading several successful STEM based initiatives in Florida and across the nation. To view a full listing of upcoming STEM events visit

FLATE is looking to host similar “Engineering Technology Experience” tours and open houses for Hillsborough County School District students in Spring 2017. To schedule a visit to FLATE/Engineering Technology lab at HCC contact Janice Mukhia, FLATE project/outreach manager at For more information on FLATE’s STEM based outreach, curriculum and lesson plans for middle and high school students and upcoming events contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or the FLATE Wiki, and

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