Suffolk County Community College is showcasing its programs aimed at training the next generation of workers through its STEM program.
STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. SCCC and others believe a curriculum steeped in STEM offers the best hope for filling the skills gap on Long Island that has left many employers unable to fill certain jobs because they can’t find enough qualified candidates.
“STEM is a term you’re going to hear certainly for the next 10 years,” said John Lombardo, the college’s associate vice president for workforce and economic development, who spoke Monday to the gathering that included politicians, business executives, state officials and educators on the school’s Brentwood campus. “It’s the foundation of manufacturing. Without the development, the engineering and the commitment that you put to the scientific method via STEM we wouldn’t be developing new products.”
Lombardo is credited with developing the college’s manufacturing curriculum.
When it comes to reinvigorating the local job market, the role of community colleges is vital, said New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who spoke briefly at the event.
“They are really helping to turn around our economy on Long Island and to move the next generation of business leaders through the education system,” Skelos said.
To that end, Nina Leonhardt, SCCC’s associate dean for continuing education who is heading the college’s STEM efforts, said, “We want to makes sure that the people our employers need... are available, and STEM is the conduit for that.”
She also spoke about a broad range of courses in the college’s “STEM ecosystem” that includes pharmacy, health care and manufacturing technology and HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
What they have in common is the emphasis on critical thinking, a skill employers have said they need to see more of, she said.
“STEM students, STEM graduates are critical thinkers and problem solvers by definition,” she said.
The school’s STEM-based training programs could help middle class workers, who have seen their jobs evaporate during the economic downturn, get back on their feet, said Suffolk County Leg. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue).
“What I think we’re trying to do here is [bring back] that American dream for people,” he said.
Photo: State Sen. Dean Skelos, majority leader.