The "Empowering STEM" conference was held Monday at GlaxoSmithKline's Navy Yard Headquarters. (Photo by: Adbul Sulayman/Tribune Chief Photographer)

By Ryanne Persinger

Approximately 80 teachers and those who work in education became the students Thursday during a daylong conference where they examined strategies for connecting classroom lessons to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Judd Pittman, special consultant to the state Secretary of Education and keynote speaker for the “Empowering STEM” conference, told the attendees that they are tasked with helping to make the next creators.

“The beauty in this is that they are the smartest, most ready generation of Americans that we’ve ever seen,” Pittman said. “They have technology at their fingertips; they have more information than we can imagine and they’re going to have to be the creators, the discerners and the synthesizers that take all of that information and use it wisely.”

Six out of 10 occupations already have 30 percent of their workforce automated, Pittman said, adding that every facet of life is being changed by technology.

“We’re going to be moving away from an apple-picking person to a robot that picks the apples,” said Pittman, a former science educator and research scientist. “We need the person that works in the orchard that fixes the robot that does the coding that picks the apple. It’s a whole different way of being.”

Pittman also said there are approximately 20,000 jobs open in computer science across the commonwealth, with a majority of them in Philadelphia, and the average starting salary is $86,000 without a four-year degree.

“Computer science related jobs in general, regardless of job category…are growing at about 26%,” Pittman said. “STEM is the space where that is happening.”

The goal, Pittman said, is to drive toward a STEM fluent commonwealth. The Pennsylvania STEM Coalition centers around the beliefs that all children are capable of STEM literacy, repetition and reflection are important in learning, STEM goes beyond the classroom and into the community and success is built upon partnerships.

Pittman said getting girls and students of color engaged in STEM has been important. He said programs like Girls Who Code, which reaches out to young girls, and the PA Smart Initiative which provides STEM grants to underserved populations are helpful.

After Pittman spoke, Simon Gratz High School computer science teacher Brittany Jenkins said she learned how she can better serve her students, many of whom are interested in building apps and health sciences.

Temple University adjunct physics instructor Jay Bagley said it’s important for students to be taught to understand science.

“This is the future of our young people,” Bagley added. “When you talk about jobs and careers, this is the direction that their quality of life is going to be in. STEM is all around us.”

This article originally appeared in the The Philadelphia Tribune. 

STEM educators come together for daylong conference

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