CFK Engineering Technology- Renewable Energy Technician students Jason Heath and Cody Moore examine a prototype hydro-kinetic turbine as part of their internships with industry partner Hydrokinetic Energy Corp.
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CFK was recently awarded  $1,917,670 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a program that engages local students—elementary through college-aged—to inspire and foster careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, commonly referred to as STEM.  The DREAM STEM project, which stands for “Developing Reliable Educational Avenues to Manifest STEM Careers,” begins its first phase this fall.

In the College’s proposal to the NSF, CFK’s Chief Science and Research Officer, Dr. Patrick Rice, cites the need for such a program: “There is an alarming global trend indicating that young people in the modern world are hesitant to pursue opportunities in STEM.  As economies are shifting from industrial-based to technology-driven, there is a lack of skilled workforce to sustain them.”

The DREAM STEM project will allow the College to address this problem in the Florida Keys.  The project aims to develop unique and attractive pathways to STEM degrees and careers that will remove barriers to entrance, reduce anxiety, and reward success as students transition from STEM academia into the STEM workforce.

Working with the Monroe County School District, the College will visit elementary and middle schools to engage young students in STEM using contemporary technology—specifically, virtual reality (VR) mobile units that feature STEM curricula.  Through VR, they will be able to experience simulations of thrilling activities performed by STEM professionals, such as repairing a wind turbine high above the ground, scuba diving to repair coral reef, or walking on the moon.

“Educational strategies that can harness the excitement of discovery, creativity, and innovation often associated with STEM, have great potential to overcome current trends and inspire young people to choose STEM career pathways,” said Rice.

When students reach high school, CFK will continue to encourage them to explore STEM fields by enrolling in free college-level STEM courses through the College’s Dual Enrollment program.  In addition to being free to Monroe County high school students, Dual Enrollment courses provide many advantages.  High school students can acclimate to college-level rigor in small supportive classes, which is particularly valuable in STEM courses that many find intimidating.  Students who get a jumpstart with DE courses save time and money in their educational journey and can go so far as to earn an associate degree for free while still in high school.  CFK is planning to open a collegiate high school in Fall 2020, which will expand DE opportunities to help more students earn a college degree alongside their high school diploma.

Once enrolled at CFK, the DREAM STEM program continues to engage, support, and incentivize student success through a scholar program.  CFK students pursuing degrees in a STEM discipline can apply to become DREAM STEM Ambassadors.  Through funds from the NSF grant, DREAM STEM Ambassadors will receive a 100 percent tuition scholarship, a stipend for ambassador work, and a paid professional internship in the field in which they are studying.

CFK’s DREAM STEM Ambassadors will contribute to the College’s enrichment activities at the elementary and middle schools, where many of them previously attended.  Their real-life STEM success stories in-the-making stand to inspire their younger counterparts.

The College will connect STEM students with multiple internship options with vetted partner organizations like Hydrokinetic Energy Corp., Siemens-Gamesa Renewable Energy, S.A., US Solar Institute, NOAA, NASA, and many more.  Through on-the-job training, students will gain professional experience, enhance their technical skills, and make valuable professional connections in their industry.

“The College recognizes the need to prepare our students for the jobs of today and future while fostering the dreams of young inspiring minds. The goal of the DREAM STEM program is to create a model that can be replicated across the country to return the US to prominence as a global leader in STEM education,” said Rice.

For more information about STEM programs at the College, contact CFK’s Director of Recruitment, Marissa Owens, at 305-809-3207 or recruiter@fkcc.edu.