Bay County economic development triumph opens up new opportunities for local students

Bay County business and education leaders are elated about the arrival of GKN Aerospace.  It is one more step toward building the high-tech economy that every city wants.

As Eryn Dion reported in the Panama City News-Herald, Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) and FSU’s Panama City campus played central roles in bringing GKN to Bay County by promising to provide the highly trained workforce – including bachelor-level engineers and associate-level technologists – that GKN needs to succeed.

But GCSC and FSU-PC cannot fulfill their promises to GKN and other local technology employers without well-prepared students graduating from Bay County’s high schools.

Fortunately, the Bay County School District is in the midst of a rapid improvement in preparing its high school students for STEM careers.  This year, there are twice as many students taking physics in Bay County’s high schools as there were a year ago.  In one school – Mosley High School – the number of physics students has risen from six to 35 since last year, and there are 58% more students taking chemistry.  The numbers of students taking precalculus and calculus at Mosley are up as well.  It’s an extraordinary development.

This success in Bay County’s high schools is due to a remarkable collaboration of teachers, counselors and administrators at the school level and district administrators.  FSU-PC and GCSC are also making remarkable contributions at the middle and high school levels that are tightly coupled to the district’s needs.  Even FSU’s President John Thrasher has pitched in by purchasing $40,000 worth of physics lab equipment for loan to Bay County high schools.

As if that weren’t enough, retired cardiologist and community leader Jim Cook and his wife Jana have made a $100,000 contribution to FSU-PC’s K-12 STEM outreach work, and to commemorate this FSU-PC has named the Bay County Future Physicists of Florida effort in honor of the Cooks.

Making the explosive growth of Bay County’s technology industry base sustainable will certainly require the continuing contributions of local economic development officials and postsecondary institutions.  But it will also require the determination of the district’s high school students and their parents, as well as ongoing support from teachers, counselors and administrators at their schools.  It is a heavy lift, but so far the entire Bay County community seems to be rising to the challenge.

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