A panel of experts on careers in science, technology, engineering and math held a public forum to help families understand the fields’ opportunities on Feb. 11 at the West Hempstead Public Library. High school students from the West Hempstead and Sewanhaka school districts attended the discussion.
“The number of careers in STEM — dealing with trying to put the earth back together again — have become huge,” said Dr. Ray Ann Havasy, the director of the Center for Science, Teaching and Learning in Rockville Centre. “There are so many career opportunities that didn’t exist when we were your age.”
Havasy explained to the audience that schools across the country have invested billions of dollars in STEM education, and more than half of available jobs in the country are STEM-related. Only 8 percent of students, however, have shown interest in STEM-related careers, compared with 73 percent in Singapore and 41 percent in Finland.
“All we can tell you is if we don’t change the number of students looking at STEM as a career — whether it’s STEM manufacturing or pursuing a career as a doctor — this country’s going to be in trouble,” Havasy said.
The good news, she said, is that students who study STEM-related careers in college are likely to have job offers when they graduate. Panelist Armando D’Accordo, president of CMIT Solutions of South Nassau, an organization that provides information technology support to local businesses, said that there are numerous careers in technology. Parents just need to make their children aware of the opportunities.
“Sometimes it takes a while to find out what you’re comfortable with,” D’Accordo said. “But if you’re comfortable with something, you’re going to be better at it and put your whole passion into it.”
The West Hempstead Library was the first of eight libraries on Long Island to open a new STEM center, which is funded by CSTL, on Jan. 27. Supported by a grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council, CSTL said it will offer hands-on educational activities for children of all ages while helping young people and their parents understand more about STEM careers.
Panelist Dr. John Tanacredi, a professor of earth and environmental studies at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, said that exposing children to as many talks and lectures as possible will help build interest in these careers.
“When we get your children, 99 percent of the time — that’s not an accurate number, but that’s the way it feels — they don’t know what they’re really doing,” Tanacredi said. “You have to find volunteer work, internships and shadow jobs to familiarize yourself.”
Panelist Michael Passantino, vice president of business development at Trinity Solar, a company that aims to provide affordable renewable energy, advised students to devise a five-year plan. “If you have to shrink down your goal a little bit, then shrink it down,” Passantino said. “Make it attainable for yourself. No one has a straight path to his or her career.”
Havasy said that during CSTL’s public forums on STEM last year, many parents admitted that they allowed their opinions to influence their children’s career choices. “That’s the worst thing we can do as parents,” Havasy said. “We have to let our children find their way and be supportive of their decisions.”
The STEM centers at the libraries, which also will be built in Franklin Square, Carle Place, South Huntington, Westbury, Central Islip, Wyandanch and Brentwood, include 3D printers and robotics equipment. Staff members will be trained by CSTL members to teach students STEM basics.