Addressing the Skills Gap

December 6, 2012

Todd Oldham
MCC Vice President
Economic Development

The U.S. economy is projected to create as many as 21 million job openings through 2020. If current trends prevail, shortages of qualified candidates are likely in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and some health care categories, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s “An Economy that Works” report.

The national picture holds true in New York as well. The demand for middle-skill workers–those with more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree–is projected to remain high through 2018, with 39 percent of all job openings requiring associate degrees or vocational credentials.

Yet gaps in skills threaten to undermine these opportunities for the workforce. It could mean thousands of well-paid jobs in areas ranging from construction and manufacturing to computers, health care, and the STEM fields possibly going unfilled, according to the National Skills Coalition’s “New York’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs” report. In response, Monroe Community College has partnered with Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. to provide a free web-based, career-exploration tool anyone in New York State can use to find out which jobs are in demand, help clarify their occupational interests, and chart their career path.

MCC Career Coach provides up-to-date local employment data, such as current and projected job openings within 100 miles of Rochester, estimated earnings, and occupations that require similar skills and knowledge, as well as specific MCC educational programs that will prepare an individual for a given profession. The data come from nearly 90 federal, state and private sources, including the U.S. Department of Labor, Census Bureau and jobs listing site. This tool provides users with a clear connection between a particular program of study and tangible opportunities in the job market.

Todd M. Oldham is Vice President of Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services Division at Monroe Community College. MCC is an active member of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub.

Finger Lakes STEM Hub Launch

April 30, 2012

Sara Silverstone

Each month since December of 2010 I have had the privilege to facilitate a remarkable collaborative group of leaders in education, government, higher ed and community organizations as we developed a regional Hub of the Empire State STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Learning Network. We developed a mission, vision, goals, working committees and action items for the year. In the past week we began inviting influential community leaders to join our Board of Champions. We have big plans and a wonderful, energetic and diverse group to carry them out. This is networking at its best!

Nearly every day I read about economic problems whose solution is to develop a technically trained workforce who can fill the jobs of the 21st Century. Students graduate without the skills employers are desperately seeking, and as a result, half of all of recent college graduates are either jobless or underemployed while great jobs are remain unfilled. Clearly there is a gap between what we are teaching our young people and what they need to learn in order to find good jobs.

What can leaders from business and education do about this disconnect, which adversely affects everybody?  By coming together in agreement about the elements of a high-quality 21st Century education and ensuring that that is what our students receive, the double-edged problem of unemployment and lack of a skilled workforce can be addressed. For too long, industry and education operated in separate silos, unaware and unconcerned about their common needs.

With the launch of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub, our region joins a statewide and national STEM learning network which enables all constituencies to acknowledge our common goals and work across sectors to address our nations most pressing technical and economic problems.

Over the next few weeks, participants in the Finger Lakes STEM Hub will share their perspective on how STEM education can address our most pressing problems and how the Finger Lakes STEM Hub can contribute to these solutions.

Unlearning Scientific Misconceptions

January 8, 2012

In an eye-opening video clip available  though Annenberg Learner, we see Harvard graduates unable to complete to complete a simple experiment taught in third-grade: how to light a lightbulb with a wire.  A one-hour video from the same series (“From Thin Air”)  shows the Harvard graduates unable to explain basic concepts about plant growth, and then goes on to investigate the sources of common misconceptions that prevent learning from elementary school on.

Misconceptions arise when students are confronted with scientific concepts that are counterintuitive. For example, many students never truly grasp the idea that the weight of a tree is mostly carbon absorbed from CO2. They have heard teachers explain photosynthesis but since they don’t believe that air has weight, they consistently assume the weight in a tree trunk must come from the water, or soil or minerals…something that has weight. Show them dry ice; a form of CO2 that clearly has weight and they are very surprised! This is an example of a discrepant event.

According to Binghamton University Professor Thomas O’Brien, experiencing a discrepant event, with its surprising, counterintuitive outcome “creates cognitive disequilibrium that temporarily throws learners mentally off-balance”. In his book, Brain-Powered Science: Teaching and Learning with Discrepant Events” (NSTA Press, 2010), O’Brien describes 33 hands-on activities that can lead students and teachers to question their implicit assumptions.

Effective inquiry teaching begins by finding out what students already know, including their misconceptions, and then guiding them to questions their assumptions and discover new knowledge for themselves.

As we all know too well, what typically happens in the classroom is that teachers “cover material” and students try to memorize as much as they can. Even hands-on labs often do not challenge students to solve problems and question assumptions. Some students are very good at memorizing and repeating information (the Harvard graduates in the video clip, for example) and others fail miserably, but neither is really developing a deep understanding of concepts, or learning science. Research shows that more is not better, when it comes to exposing students volumes of detailed information through lectures or textbooks.  The brain learns through making connections to prior knowledge, so dispelling misconception is an essential prerequisite for new learning.

See Dr. O’Brian’s keynote address: Misconceptions Matter: Where Do They Come From? Where Do They Go? at the Central Western Section STANYS Winter Workshop at Nazareth College, Feb. 9, 2012

Problem-based Learning at the Rochester STEM High School

October 26, 2011

Charles, Lway, Selena, Corrina and Kameron share their research on teen pregnancy

Yesterday I attended a poster symposium put on by students of the Academy of Health Science (AOHS) at the Rochester City School District STEM High School. Since I spent two weeks with the STEM faculty in a summer institute on teaching through Problem-based learning, I was excited to participate in the culminating activity of the first problem.

About 6 weeks ago, the students of AOHS were presented with a real life problem regarding teen pregnancy and STDs in the Rochester area.  Each Wednesday, students researched, participated in lab activities, and learned about different aspects of to this important topic.  As a culminating activity, students created a tri-fold displaying what they’ve learned and solutions to help teens with this current health crisis.

Students worked in groups of four or five and created posters to present their research. Most students found the topic deeply engaging and relevant. According to Charles Nash, a tenth grader at STEM,

“Having a baby changes your life. You lose your childhood when you become a parent..its really hard”.

I asked the students what was the most surprising information they learned though their research and learned some surprising statistics:

  • One-in-four U.S. teens get pregnant by age 18.
  • The US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world.
  • 20% of US teens live in poverty.

Asked about their sources of information, students gave a range of responses, although clearly the internet is a primary source of information.  Several student groups cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or told me they limited their online sources to those ending in  .gov, .org or .edu. Clearly, these students are learning not only the content, but also about the importance of distinguishing  credible from noncredible sources of online information.

In addition to asking about the research project itself, I also asked students how they felt about learning through Problem-Based Learning, as opposed to through traditional classroom instruction. All of the students I spoke with said they preferred it, believed they learned more and felt they were more likely to remember what they learned than through traditional instruction. Corrina Soto, a ninth grader at STEM summed it up nicely when she said,

“Its nice, you can teach yourself, instead of a boring lecture. It helps you know more when you teach yourself. When you put it in your own brain, it stays there”.

The research on learning backs up Corrina’s observation…active learning in context does indeed support longer-term memory. Bravo STEM HS!

President Obama Names McQuaid Teacher Tops in STEM Education

June 21, 2010

Ms. Jeanne Kaidy of McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, NY

Jeanne Kaidy – a science teacher at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester – has been named one of the top STEM educators in the nation by President Barack Obama. 

On June 7, Kaidy was one of 103 American teachers announced by President Obama as a recipient of the 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  Kaidy was only one of two teachers from New York State to win this prestigious honor.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is given annually to the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers in the nation. Recipients are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.  Winners receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony at the White House.  

In the official White House press release listing Kaidy as a recpient President Obama said: “Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s strength and competitiveness and the scientists and engineers who have led America on its remarkable path to success share something very precious: science and math teachers who brought these critical subjects to life.” 

Obama continued: “Today we honor some of the best of these teachers and thank them for their dedication. They are inspirations not just to their students, but to the Nation and the world.”

Kaidy was nominated for the award by an anonymous source at the Advanced Placement College Board – a testing organization she does consulting work for.  Following her nomination she had to write a 25 page essay on her philosophy of teaching.  When she found out she was one of President Obama’s choices for the award she was thrilled, but found her students were just as excited as she was.

Kaidy's students from McQuaid doing research at Mendon Ponds.

Kaidy has been teaching for twelve years.  All of her teaching – including student teaching – has been at McQuaid.  In addition to teaching biology and AP environmental science, she is also the chair of the science department.  She has a Bachelor of Science in biology with a concentration in aquatic ecology from State University of New York at Brockport, and Master of Science in education from Nazareth College of Rochester.

In speaking with Kaidy it was readily apparent what makes her unique as a STEM educator. “I am a scientist at heart,” Kaidy said, “That is how I see the world.”  Kaidy lives the subject she teaches and treats her students as scientists as well. “I am a purist,” Kaidy said, “I teach the scientific method and what scientists do in the real world. I treat my students like scientists and give them as much exposure to the real world as I can.”

When students enter Kaidy’s Advanced Placement environmental science course they quickly learn that Kaidy is not a teacher that confines her lesson plans to the classroom.  “The first thing we do is go white water rafting,” Kaidy said. “They learn the intrinsic value of nature and it brings the class together quickly.”

Some of the other unique experiences Kaidy gives her students are a mock wolf trial – where the class debates reintroducing wolves into the Adirondacks and field work at Mendon Ponds.  At Mendon Ponds her students must design their own experiments ahead of time. All of her lessons are problem solving and inquiry based.

Another trait that sets Kaidy apart is her willingness to fail in front of her students.  “I am not afraid to try new things in the classroom even if they [the experiments] fail,” Kaidy said, “If you model risk tasking in front of your students they won’t be afraid to take risks either.”

The teacher not afraid to fail has won the most prestigious teaching award in the county – there is a lesson to be learned in that.

Article by Caurie Miner Putnam, Coordinator of the STEM Mentor Program at the Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science.

Congratulations to Suzanne Pilon!

August 5, 2009

White House

The Rochester Area Colleges’ Center for Excellence in Math and Science (RAC-CEMS) wants to congratulate Suzanne Monagan Pilon for receiving the  Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Mrs. Pilon is a Primary Multi-Age Teacher at Hilton’s Quest Elementary School. The news article can be found at Hilton Central School District’s website.

To find out more about this and other awards for educators, visit our web site’s Educator Fellowships and Awards page.

Changing Old Fryer Oil to Biodiesel Fuel @ Nazareth College

April 22, 2009

Today is Earth day. We want to recognize Nazareth College of Rochester for their environmental efforts or green initiatives.

This year, Nazareth College acquired the BioPro 190 as part of their efforts to help the environment. There are 18 colleges in the US using this machine. The BioPro 190 changes the frying oil used in the college’s cafeterias  to biodiesel fuel. The fuel is then used to run the diesel vehicles and lawn mowers on campus. Nazareth College is the only college in the region that is making their own biodiesel fuel.

As Bob Sanderson, Nazareth Grounds Manager, said: “It’s really not about economy for Nazareth College. It’s about ecology.”

I hope this inspires other local and national colleges and universities to follow on Nazareth’s footsteps!

PS: I just hope it doesn’t smell like french fries when they’re driving the cars or lawn mowers or they’re going to want to run to the cafeteria to get some as it happened to me while doing this post! 🙂