First Friday: Building the STEM Pipeline on Cape Cod and the Islands

Bridget Burger, director of the Cape Cod Regional STEM Network (CCRSN), came to the First Friday Breakfast Meeting to fill us in on what the STEM network is, what they do, and where they’re headed. She was joined by Cape Cod Community College colleagues Erik Benton, Dean Patrick Preston, Andrea Lyons, Louis Beco, and Kathleeen Bent.

The CCRSN is a consortium of more than 650 individuals and 85 partner organizations working to build the STEM pipeline from Kindergarten to career in the region. Housed at Cape Cod Community College, CCRSN’s mission is to be an inspiration hub for tomorrow’s innovators.

They see STEM education as a critical component to developing a globally competitive workforce. Job openings nationwide – and in our region – show high paying jobs with high demand in computer fields and engineering.

CCRSN is one of five networks in the state, which came out of the STEM Advisory Council. We live in a state which has one of the highest percentages of STEM employment in the nation, and are poised to be a leader in STEM. CCRSN’s goal is to bring in as many resources as they can to a STEM ecosystem.

Not only does Cape Cod rank high in the state, CCRSN was named one of the top 50 STEM networks in the country, which has given them resources at the national level and access to a model being used with great success. It’s the model of an ecosystem, the interdependent entities of which include families, higher education, business, after school programs, science centers, and libraries. Bridget says when we engage these partners, it makes a strong program.

Facing reduction in funding, CCRSN revised their strategic plan with focus areas on supporting teacher professional development; providing resources, information, and events; and developing and evaluating STEM programs. Bridget is a STEM program evaluator through Harvard Medical School, and their website is one of the many resources CCRSN provides.

To develop and encourage high quality STEM programming in and out of school in our region, CCRSN offers:

  • K-12 STEM Educator Institute, providing professional development for teachers.
  • Teacher Resource Library: “The Education Station” – a lending library of materials for k-12 educators. CCRSN purchased kits, trained teachers, and started an education station of materials for use in classrooms.
  • Teacher-in-residence Externships – the opportunity for teachers to participate in STEM-rich institutions or companies, where they develop a curriculum unit to be shared on the website with other teachers.
  • STEM Week: October 22-26, 2018

The STEM Educator Institute last summer included a maker space in Mashpee which helped teachers implement science in their classrooms. Science, they found, has taken a back seat to math and ELA due to standardized testing and the maker space helped teachers incorporate science back into their curriculum. They also offered a Biology Lab Brush up on bio best practices, which came out of a need to improve lab practices so students are prepared to work right out of college. These best practices are being implemented at the high school level.

They have discovered that teaching engineering to elementary students builds collaboration, creativity, problem solving and effective communication – soft skills employers look for that are hard to teach. CCRSN used the Engineering is Elementary curriculum in a design process based on the cardboard challenge inspired by Cain’s arcade:

There are 25 events that are part of STEM Week, including a Cape & Islands Robotics Jamboree and Blue Economy Career Panel.

How can you be involved?

  • Take part in a STEM Week
  • Sign up to mentor a CCCC STEM student
  • Tell us about an internship for a CCCC student
  • Become a sponsor or host site for one or more of the programs: Vex Robotics, CCCC Mentoring, K-12 Professional Development, The Education Station, Teacher-in-residence, Waterworks. The more they do, the more support they need.

Following Bridget’s presentation, faculty from Cape Cod Community College spoke about how they are preparing students for careers in Information Technology. Kathleen Bent says there are options for students and the business community through work experience in IT programs. Students have an option of working 150 hours in the IT field. Matched with a job based on their skill base, students take skills from course work and apply them in the real world. Business partners have used the program as a vetting process to hire entry level workers, benefiting both parties. There is also a Field Project course, in which students take on a specific project in their area of interest at a company. These programs help students improve soft skills as well as IT skills.

IT faculty Andrea Lyons says the college has the only full-fledged Cisco academy in the region. Students with a Networking Concentration are trained to work as network administrators, and senior students can put together entire networks, including wireless. Andrea says most students go above and beyond what is expected, putting in extra hours to get the experience, and many are already employed during the program because there is such a need. They don’t just come to class prepared, she says, they are self-motivated, curious, and interested in learning beyond what is in the book.

One of the concerns about hiring a CCCC graduate is that they don’t have a 4 year degree. But Security and Networking faculty Louis Beco says there’s a pathway to Northeastern, and when they get there CCCC students don’t have to take technical classes because they are already prepared. He says there’s a misunderstanding about the quality of the skills coming out of the college. Louis has taken masters level material, and presented it as an associate degree. “It would be in your best interest to snatch them up,” he said of his students. “Once they get work across the bridge, they’re not coming back. Get them while they’re here.”

The teachers at CCCC have hands on experience, and have developed programs that feed the STEM pipeline. If you need IT help at any level, there are ways to work with the college to get a student that’s qualified.

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