Debrief: Ken White eyes tomorrow’s workforce, today

White's great hope: Brookhaven National Laboratory Educational Programs Manager Ken White believes the Long Island STEM Hub and its numerous academic and commercial partners are having a positive effect on regional workforce development.

When last we chatted up Ken White, the manager of Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Office of Educational Programs was jazzed about the progress the then-three-year-old Long Island STEM Hub was making on its mission to educate a high-tech next-gen workforce. Launched in 2012 as part of the community-driven Empire State STEM Learning Network, the science/technology/engineering/mathematics program – managed by BNL and the Northwell Health system – has hit its stride in the last two years, according to White, who notes strong partnerships with regional educators and business leaders and a host of innovative workforce-development initiatives en route.    

Teaching teachers: The biggest growth for the Long Island STEM Hub has been in two things. The first is our Teacher Professional Development Day. We’ve worked with a number of local business and academic partners to develop a teacher-development day, typically on Election Day. We wanted to offer them the opportunity to actually go into businesses and see how their curriculum is used in the workplace, so they can better align what they’re teaching based on their experience visiting an actual industrial setting.

Show off: The other is our annual celebration, the Student Showcase. Our regional business and academic partners will come, typically in April or May, and we’ll have tables showing their activities and technologies. We also highlight students from many different programs across Long Island that do STEM activities. What I really like is this program puts teachers, school administrators, business leaders and students in the same place, where they can see what the others are doing. Often times, when these students display their robotics and other projects, the business leaders are blown away. They don’t always recognize the abilities of the high school and early-college students.

Known quantity: We don’t have an exact (participation) number. But there’s strong recognition of the STEM Hub now. The number of school districts has grown and the number of partners or collaborators who offer STEM opportunities has also grown.

Girl power: Just recently, we brought in Girls Inc. (of Long Island) and their executive director, Renee Flagler, who’s now beginning to develop out new opportunities for young women in the area. The idea is to find that audience of students, that audience of teachers and that audience of businesses who can offer opportunity to these young people, and make sure we’re all working together.

Academy days: The [Career Academies program] continues to grow in popularity and is very successful in helping students excel. They’re going quite strongly at the schools that have them. Most recently, we’ve seen the Longwood School District beginning to develop out some Career Academies. Of course, Eastern Suffolk BOCES has their Academy of Applied Technology, and we’re seeing students coming out of there with exceptional abilities.

Intern’s turn: We’re beginning to push a lot harder on internships, really developing out opportunities for high school students and young college students to participate in the workforce. There are a lot of small Long Island businesses that don’t have huge human resources infrastructure and may have 20 or 30 employees, and find it difficult to find the right student to fit their needs. We’re working closely with businesses to develop out what students might be able to do in those settings.

Farm team: One program I particularly like is P-TECH. Farmingdale State College is leading the way on this one, and there are a number of great manufacturers taking part. The idea is to start with students in ninth grade and work with them right through an associate’s degree. The first cohort is about two-thirds of the way through, and pretty soon we’ll see how they get placed and how successful they are with their career opportunities.

Science, the Next Generation: The Hub has a great opportunity to help schools adapt to the Next Generation Science Standards. New York largely adopted them with some modifications – actually, they made them a bit more rigorous – and there’s a lot of emphasis on science-based learning and application of technology skills, down into the early years of education. As school districts are working on how to incorporate that education into their curriculum, the STEM Hub and its partners can help them prepare to meet those standards.

Read all about it: Sometime in the late winter or early spring, we’re going to launch a new website. We’ve been getting some help from the people at HJMT Public Relations, Hillary Topper’s group. They’re working with us to develop out the site in a way that broadens that visibility of the STEM Hub and creates greater awareness of what we’re doing.

Plan ahead: What’s going to happen in 2018 is our New York State grant is going to really strengthen our website and strengthen the viability of the program and its marketing, so we can begin to broaden awareness. Also, the internship program is going to really blossom, regarding collaboration with small businesses and schools. We’ll also be looking at how we can work more with small colleges, which can also help facilitate internships.

Work in progress: I can only speak anecdotally, because I don’t think we have good, hard data yet. And I can’t say that all (regional) STEM progress would be attributed to the STEM Hub. But I can say it’s beginning to make a difference – who’s partnering with who, and other things that are coming about because of the STEM Hub.

Interview by Gregory Zeller  

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