STEM Strong: Orange County Strengthens its Commitment to Students through STEM Learning
Last month, Orange County Public Schools hosted the inaugural Biomedical Science Challenge, which featured Project Lead-the-Way’s Biomedical Science module – the COVID-19 Pandemic. It was an industry-based challenge that asked students to take on the role of a public health official, then tasked them with providing solutions to the ongoing global health crisis.
“Participating in these STEM initiatives is one of the most powerful ways to make an impact,” said Daniella Sullivan, Orange County Health Services Administrator, who helped judge the competition. “As leaders, we need to encourage future generations and recognize this talent and mentor them now, before they go off to college.”
Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings provided the keynote for the event. Funding for the challenge originated from a grant awarded by Orange County’s Innovation and Emerging Technology Office through its Scientific Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Development Initiative.
The Initiative supports community organizations that provide STEM career training, and it echoes Mayor Demings’ vision of creating an ideal experimental prototype community of tomorrow (EPCOT) by providing innovative and inclusive local career paths for our community’s youth.
“Mayor Demings has his vision for the community to be one that works for all, and in order for that to happen, we need to have a variety of career paths for everyone,” said Andrea Wesser-Brawner, Chief Innovation & Emerging Technology Officer. “The best STEM learning happens in informal settings. Kids – especially those in underserved communities – want to solve problems and engineer solutions, so exposure to STEM is huge for them.”
In addition to $238,000 in grant funding that will go to six organizations in 2021, the County will provide videos highlighting Central Florida-based STEM career opportunities. County staff with STEM backgrounds will also be connected to these organizations as mentors, lead a virtual tour or provide “teach-in” resources. A variety of career paths will be featured throughout these programs, from technician/machinists, to environmental and biological backgrounds, to engineering and computer-related professionals.
In return for these resources, the organizations are required to report a variety of impact metrics, guaranteeing diverse student populations are given equitable access to these programs. In its first year alone, the initiative is expected to expose at least 15,000 Orange County-based middle, high school and higher education students to the endless possibilities of STEM careers, while also providing more than 750 local teachers access to STEM-related resources.
“Our goal is to ensure kids know there are powerful STEM careers in their futures and this region has a great deal to offer when it comes to technology and innovation,” added Wesser-Brawner. “We want to provide the experts and let the kids meet individuals like them – both in gender and race – so they get excited about STEM careers.”
Organizations awarded grants from Orange County’s STEM initiative:
Orlando Regional Robotics competition for high school students.
Hosted by the University of Central Florida, this funding supports the North American Qualifier and the North American Bootcamp for the International Computer Programming Competition.
Collegiate Pathways, Inc. – $35,000
Orlando-based program Tech Sassy Girls that introduces Black middle and high school girls to computer-based career options through hands-on programs.
Central Florida STEM Education Council – $25,000
Hosts thousands of K-12 teachers in STEM immersive experiences to provide curricula, lab concepts and/or engaging hands-on activities to inspire students to pursue STEM careers.
Florida Photonics Cluster – $10,000
Works with collegiate institutions to inspire students into photonics-specific career opportunities.
The School Board of Orange County – $43,000
Funding for Orange County Public School departments to large-scale programming and services promoting STEM career fields to a wide range of middle and high school students.
Photo cutline: [L-R] Health Services Administrator Daniella Sullivan and Orange County’s Chief Innovation & Emerging Technology Officer Andrea Wesser-Brawner are pictured at Orange County Public Schools’ Biomedical Science Challenge. They served as judges in the Pandemic Call-to-Action Challenge.