The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas shows that many Florida families are taking an economic beating. How should we respond?

While Miami Herald political reporter Mary Ellen Klas was writing the article “Recession still has Floridians reeling and anxious about election” that appeared today and and while she was collecting the reams of data that are available interactively on the Herald website, she was focusing on how next month’s Florida election results would be affected by the awful economic hangover that the state is still suffering eight years after the recession.  How bad is the hangover?  Consider this one startling statistic among many that Mary Ellen quotes:  Inflation-adjusted median household income in Florida was 7.2% lower in 2015 than in 2007.

But while she was writing, Mary Ellen certainly wasn’t thinking about how someone like me would respond to her report.

I see career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as the best elevator out of poverty for young people in Florida and elsewhere.  Those opportunities aren’t just for the top few percent of students, or even just for the students who go straight to a four-year college after graduating high school – although all of those should have access to bachelor-level careers in engineering, science and health care.  There are also places in the STEM workforce for those who don’t attend 4-year colleges, through 2-year Associate in Applied Science degrees, postsecondary certificate programs, and even high school-level certificate programs.  Nearly all students can break into the STEM workforce and earn a middle class income – if they are willing to do the work and are given the opportunities to do so by their parents, teachers and school leaders.

It turns out that STEM professionals like me can help more students find their way into the STEM workforce.

How?

Many parents, teachers and school leaders don’t know how to give their students access to those careers but would like to find out.  And some teachers don’t have the tools they need to give their students the best possible learning opportunities.  Professionals in STEM fields like me can actually help with those situations.  For example, we’ve made some progress in Bay County.  But when it comes to preparing students for STEM careers, many Florida schools are doing poorly.  There is so much more to do.

And when those students make it to a college or university campus like mine, they deserve the best learning environment we can provide.  I’ve been a member of a team in the FSU Physics Department that has done just that – as pointed out in the last few days by a national task force.  And physics departments at some of the other SUS institutions are doing a great job as well.  But so many of the academic units in STEM fields at our state’s universities haven’t even begun to do the things we know will help more students learn their disciplines with understanding.

It’s clear from Mary Ellen’s reporting that the needs are enormous throughout the state, and settling for what we’ve already done or what is comfortable just wouldn’t be right.  I’ll be thinking about the rising poverty rates that threaten to cut off opportunities to so many children.  And when I get discouraged or tired, that will push me ahead.

 

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