Growing the Future

Orlando Science Center is Helping Fill the Pipeline from Cradle to Career

By: Thomas Webb

America’s standing in the global marketplace has depended upon being able to compete with other nations in scientific and technological development. Success requires talented people who can produce the most innovative products, explore our universe, and make the astonishing discoveries that advance human knowledge, health and well- being. The speed of change increases—almost daily. In the very near future, it is possible that scientists might find cures for cancer, diabetes or other chronic diseases, grow synthetic replacement organs from a person’s own stem cells, launch pioneers to colonize Mars, and invent things that we cannot yet even imagine.

The role of Orlando Science Center, and that of science centers all over the world, is to help create the next generation of innovators that will help transform our economy and our world. Science centers focus on translating scientific, technological, engineering and math advances to students, teachers, parents and the public in a way that is active, inclusive, inspiring and fun. They bring STEM concepts to life in a way that shows the importance of science to solving real world problems.

“We help fill the pipeline that runs from cradle to career by engaging parents and children together in active learning, supporting schools with resources and teacher training, and facilitating partnerships with industry to showcase technology and career opportunities,” said Orlando Science Center President and CEO JoAnn Newman. “If we want to grow the number of STEM professionals, it is imperative to reach beyond the traditional sources.”

Stimulating STEM
From 2000 to 2010, STEM-related jobs grew at three times the rate of non-STEM jobs. These jobs pay about 12-30{bfd614f294d07c51b84c8dad33a56885001f0ed7300088ac66752d3246377d5a} more than those in the non-STEM fields. Currently, minorities are deeply underrepresented in these areas, which greatly reduces the number of qualified workers in the pipeline. By 2018, an estimated 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled due to not enough qualified applicants. The Science Center addresses this shortage by increasing engagement among young people, specifically girls and minorities. Programs encourage and motivate these youth to pursue STEM-related careers.

It is imperative to start laying the groundwork now with our youth in order to generate more STEM degrees, but the challenges are very clear. Youth start to lose interest in math and science as early as third grade. By eighth grade, that number is as high as 50 percent, which dramatically impacts the number of STEM graduates down the road. Informal learning like you find at science centers can lead to improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers, increased STEM knowledge and skills, and higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career.

Beyond the Classroom
Studies show that 80 percent of what children know is learned outside the classroom in informal environments like science centers and museums. Through offerings like a full-time, onsite preschool to early childhood workshops for parents and children, to field trips, teacher trainings, afterschool programs, STEM-focused school break camps, and offsite science festivals at schools and community centers, Orlando Science Center provides a comprehensive array of programs. These initiatives engage learners of all ages and backgrounds during every stage of their educational journey. Last year, more than 140,000 teachers and students across Central Florida were touched by Science Center programs. In total, the Science Center reached more than 570,000 people during their most recent fiscal year. Of that number, nearly 100,000 people, both adults and children, engaged in free or reduced price experiences.

“As Central Florida continues to evolve as a hub for innovation and technology, it is essential for our sustained growth to invest in the best and brightest minds,” said Wes Naylor, president and managing partner of the Coe and Naylor Group and former executive officer of NAWCTSD Orlando. “Orlando Science Center offers STEM business leaders the prime opportunity to secure future success now by collaborating to create a passion for science, technology,engineering, and math in our young people while their minds are open and ready.”

Studies show that 80{bfd614f294d07c51b84c8dad33a56885001f0ed7300088ac66752d3246377d5a} of what children know is learned outside the classroom.

Orlando Science Center’s contribution to growing Florida’s STEM workforce is clearly evident. No one else does what they do when it comes to inspiring curiosity and vividly illustrating the value of STEM. Hands-on activities like building a stronger bridge, programming a robot, or using a 3D printer to turn an idea into reality excite youth while helping them grow valuable skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork and communication – skills that will benefit them in school and throughout their lives. For the team at Orlando Science Center, STEM is more than a buzzword; it’s about instilling skills for success in our young people so they can fill tomorrow’s jobs.

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i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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