March 29, 2010
By: by Mareesa Nicosia, The Saratogian
BALLSTON SPA - From third grade on, students can and have set their minds on a future career, which is why it's important to start early when directing them toward options in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
This was a key point of a panel discussion between business, industry and higher education leaders who gathered at Ballston Spa High School Friday to kick off the day-long STEM 2010 Expo. The discussion was moderated by F. Michael Tucker, president for the Center of Economic Growth, and comments were made by experts from Hudson Valley Community College, GlobalFoundries, IBM, SuperPower Inc., Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and the state Department of Labor.
Officials from several school districts in the region, led by Ballston Spa Central School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Dragone, spent the better part of a year organizing the STEM conference which, as the first of its kind in the region, drew about 1,200 educators and business professionals from throughout New York state, including Rochester and Long Island. It was billed as a professional development opportunity for educators to learn how to prepare students for the demands of the 21st century work force.
Growth in the region and the 1,400 jobs expected to materialize as GlobalFoundries builds its microchip plant in Malta are luring families from around the world to settle in the region, said officials who spoke at the conference. The climate of diversity, the rapid pace of technological growth and a global economy that operates 24/7 raises the standard for schools to produce "life-long learners" who can keep up, they added.
"A high school diploma is just not enough for anything anymore," said Mario Musolino, executive deputy commissioner of the state Department of Labor.
Typically, employees with a high school degree have only half as much earning potential as those with some type of college degree, he said.
Entry-level employees often lack adequate writing and oral communication skills and the ability to work in teams, panelists representing IBM, SuperPower Inc. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals added.
Panelists agreed that STEM classes and career planning should be built into the school curriculum as early as possible, and that hands-on activities and visits with professionals in different fields are necessary for students to learn how their work in the classroom can be relevant to a future career.
"We are targeting technician-level people with a two-year associate degree with proper training in science and technology fields," said Eric Choh, vice president of operations at GlobalFoundries.
In addition to the panel discussion, dozens of workshops and exhibitions showcased the work of area schools and businesses. A keynote address was given by Alain E. Kaloyeros, senior vice president and CEO of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering of the University at Albany. Kaloyeros announced the creation of a new bachelor's degree program in nanoscale engineering that the college will soon offer.
"What's nice about this is you get some good information that you can immediately bring back to your classroom," said Tom Blechinger, a middle school technology teacher in Niskayuna.
Julie Higgins, who teaches high school math in the Guilderland Central School District, said she is challenged every day to show students how mathematics is applicable outside the classroom and in a future career.
"I though this would be a good way to find out where some of the curriculum is used in different industries, so it's more applicable," Higgins said. "Just to hear about the hands-on and collaborative approach to learning reinforced what I already believe is important."