|By Kyle Edwards|
Progress is catching up to us, and in the coming years, Florida is expected to be in desperate need of scientists and engineers. In response, the Santa Fe College Perry Center for Emerging Technologies launched its inaugural STEM Fest to excite the public about the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and math.
The gathering comes as a glimmer of hope to Florida. According to Gov. Rick Scott’s 2012 Job Creation and Economic Growth Agenda, Florida will need 120,000 new workers in the fields of science and technology by 2018.
The U.S. Department of Labor also estimates that 15 of the top 20 fastest growing careers require education in these subjects.
Last month, the walls of the Perry Center showcased impressive student projects littered with complex equations, chemical formulas and genetic sequences—all of which would surpass the understanding of the vast majority of people.
The event—now planned annually—began as an idea to compliment the college’s Research in Undergraduate Education Festival, a larger gathering held in spring, and though it was initially geared toward middle and high school students, the program coordinators had a wider scope in mind.
“The purpose of STEM Fest is we invite the local high schools, middle schools and, of course, Santa Fe College and pretty much anybody in the area who’s interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to come,” says Jennifer Griffis, a junior and president of the Biotechnology Club at SFC.
To highlight the benefit of science-based jobs on the local economy, nightly speakers in the four-day event talked about their careers and fields of interest. Kim Yates, the first speaker, works on the business end of operations at Banyan Biomarkers.
Yates stressed the wide variety of jobs available to students of STEM disciplines. “Getting a degree in biotech does not limit you to bench-top science. The opportunities are plentiful,” she says.
The event also focused on the growing number of biotech companies in the area. The students and faculty of the Perry Center work closely with the start-ups in the nearby Progress Corporate Park.
“Here, there is a real, true biotechnology cluster growing up,” says Patti Breedlove, associate director of the University of Florida Sid Martin Biotech Business Incubator. “It’s been a wonderful thing for the city of Alachua, because it turns out that our companies have, each year on average, $100 million of economic impact on Alachua County.”
The festival participants visibly exhibit passion for what they’re doing. They say they are educators and students for whom science is not simply a career, but the promise of a better future. The goal of STEM Fest was to ignite this passion in others, they add.
That passion comes through in how they talk about what they do. Santa Fe Biotechnology Program Coordinator Eileen Monck says, “We’re advancing research in better fuels, better energy, better medical devices, better treatments, better ways of catching criminals—we just keep pushing it. If somebody had an idea, and one day it was science fiction, now all of the sudden it’s real.”