STEM Symposium Inspires Students
Dozens of teenagers woke up early on a Saturday morning to spend the day at Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus learning about careers in fields they already love: science, technology, engineering and math.
They came to be inspired by professionals and college students who told them careers in the STEM subjects are profitable and in demand. They came to learn about what local colleges have to offer them and to hear from elected officials about the need for the United States to stay competitive in a global marketplace.
The event, called Leaders on the Fast Track (LOFT) Life Science Career Symposium, was organized by the MdBio Foundation and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and co-sponsored by Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus. The goal of the inaugural STEM career symposium was to give high school students, particularly minorities under-represented in STEM fields, a glimpse into career paths they could pursue.
Students heard from Timothy Warner, chief engagement and partnership officer at Montgomery County Public Schools, about his career path from bacterial geneticist to pharmaceutical researcher to school district administrator. They also heard from Eileen Whelan, meteorologist for ABC/WJLA-TV, about her early fascination with weather and passion for math and science.
Brian Gaines, chief executive of MdBio Foundation, told the students that Maryland has the fourth-largest concentration of bioscience industry in the United States, with leaders such as MedImmune and Emergent BioSolutions among the industry giants.
Jobs in STEM-related fields are projected to grow 17 percent by 2018, compared with less than 10 percent for non-STEM jobs, Gaines said. STEM workers earn about 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.
Yet African-Americans make up less than 4 percent of the STEM workforce, and Hispanics make up less than 5 percent.
“This is a travesty,” Gaines said.
Joel Asiamah, a junior at Watkins Mill High School, wants to be part of that STEM workforce. Joel moved to Maryland last year from Ghana because his father, he said, believes there are more opportunities here. Joel wants to be a scientist.
“This (LOFT) is a good opportunity for me because I get more insight into biology,” Joel said. “My aim is to study engineering and all science together. I wanted to come here and see what there is to offer.
“Biology is something I find fascinating,” Joel continued. “It’s cool. It’s good to know. It is a challenge to my brain.”
Elected officials attending LOFT were: U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen; U.S. Rep. John Delaney; State Delegate Kathleen Dumais; Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett; County Council President Nancy Navarro; County Councilman Phil Andrews; Gaithersburg Mayor Sydney Katz; and Gaithersburg Councilman Ryan Speigel. Former County Executive Doug Duncan also attended.
Van Hollen told the students that they need to reach their full potential so the country could reach its full potential.
“The fastest-growing areas in the job market are in STEM fields,” Van Hollen said. “You have huge potential. We are counting on you.”
Delaney told the students that even if they don’t pursue STEM fields, the skills acquired by having a strong foundation in those areas will help develop their reasoning abilities. Strong reasoning and cognitive skills will help them succeed in other disciplines, Delaney said.
Leggett talked about his recent trip to China, where he visited a technology park that is “about half the size of Montgomery County.” STEM jobs are available in the United States, he said, urging the students to succeed in these areas.
“Our challenge here is we need people from Montgomery County to fill those jobs,” Leggett said. “There is an opportunity for success. There is an opportunity to make a difference.”
During the LOFT event, students attended career panels, where they heard from graduate students studying myriad subjects, including civil engineering, nutrition, biochemistry, nursing, international relations and government affairs.
During an expo, they met with representatives from Johns Hopkins University, Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College, Towson University and NASA.
The LOFT program was worthwhile for Victoria Lopez Del Pino, a sophomore at Osbourn Park High School in Virginia. Victoria is considering being a science professor or finding a career where she can find cures for diseases. She was up until 2 a.m. at a sleepover, and then attended LOFT when she awoke.
“I’m here to look at all the possibilities there are,” she said. Of her interest in science, she said: “I like the challenge. I’m really glad I like it and it’s a good career area and it’s growing.”