By Benn Aaronson, Team Orlando STEM Advocate
On March 5, I saw the Florida State Capitol rotunda transformed into an interactive demonstration of the importance of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for Florida’s first “STEM Day at the Capitol,” bringing together students, science centers, industry and STEM advocates to inform and educate the state’s leadership.
A wide variety of STEM-related exhibits had attendees buzzing with excitement – from the student robotics projects and simulators, to the science experiments and underwater robotics. Even Angry Birds made their way to STEM Day.
“STEM Day at the Capitol was an amazing day of engagement and advocacy,” said JoAnn Newman, President and CEO of Orlando Science Center. “The Orlando Science Center created this event to connect with our state leaders about the important role science centers play in promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.”
As Team Orlando’s STEM Advocate, I wanted to talk with some of the students participating as exhibitors. One of the FIRST Robotics students I visited with, I suggested with his skills he should contact a local business about an internship. He replied, “I turned one down.” And when I asked him why, he said, “I’m only thirteen.”
Another FIRST Robotics student was a young lady who was the project information lead responsible for the information and marketing for which the team received an award. With these talents, I presumed her plan was to pursue a marketing or business major. When I inquired, I was wrong. She wants to become a microbiologist.
These are just two small examples of how the STEM initiative moving across the state of Florida, is providing opportunities for our K-12 students to excel. Although I experienced the successes of STEM, I also saw the continuing need for education about STEM, while I was manning the information kiosk. By far the number one question asked was, “What is STEM?”
It’s easy for the STEM advocates, educators, and policymakers to recite the need for STEM because research supports that 60 percent of future jobs will require STEM skills, that currently only 20 percent of our workforce possess. To be successful, tomorrow’s innovators must have strong skills in problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork.
Events like STEM Day continue to help educate those outside of the field because they offer information and examples to influential people like lawmakers and staffers, who shape government policy and public funding. Most importantly they are also parents, grandparents and mentors who shape our youth’s paths to the future. STEM education cannot just be for students; it must also include those who influence their education choices.
“Although STEM Day was filled with simulators and hands-on activities, it also created passionate discussion about how strategic partnerships can encourage our youth to pursue STEM careers,” said Newman. Partnerships between science centers, formal education and industry are so vital to this effort. Events like STEM Day and Otronicon, plus programs like our STEM field trip offerings and initiatives that take hands-on learning directly to our schools and community centers, make science come alive for our leaders, teachers, parents and youth of all ages.”
Joining the Orlando Science Center in this inaugural effort were Team Orlando, Lockheed Martin, Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Florida State University, STEM Sim Ex and FIRST Robotics. “We thank all of our industry partners who support the Orlando Science Center and our mission,” said Newman.
Participants in STEM Day participants had the opportunity to share their demos and projects with the Lt. Governor, legislators and staffers, as well as the visiting public, demonstrating examples of successful STEM projects and echoing the continued need for their support of STEM in the State of Florida.
For those of you supporting the STEM initiative, I applaud your efforts and urge you to continue. We are making a difference! For those considering becoming a STEM volunteer, it’s a rewarding experience. There are many opportunities, and might include judging at a local school science far or becoming a student mentor. Or, perhaps you could help with a school science club or project coach or participate as a guest speaker and talk about your job and how STEM plays a role.
This is only a small sampling of the ways you can get involved, but there’s something for everyone. If you have any questions or need help finding your STEM volunteer experience, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by Roberto Gonzalez and courtesy of Orlando Science Center.