American STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education has seen an overall decline in student interest during the last two decades. STEM is a pivotal sector of our economy, and it is important that today’s students become tomorrow’s STEM leaders.
Each state has responded to the growing disinterest in STEM education in their own way. The state of Florida has enacted several initiatives to improve the quality of STEM education, further engage students and inspire future generations of STEM professionals.
In 2009, the Florida STEM Council, STEMflorida, was formed to work with educators, students and industries in addressing numerous concerns regarding STEM careers and education. The council aims to clearly and succinctly define STEM in order to provide Florida with a working definition that will help educators and employers raise awareness of STEM issues. It works with industries to help generate greater interest in these fields through outreach, publicity and professional development. For educators, STEMflorida offers resources and professional development that can help schools strengthen STEM education and inspire students. And for parents and students, there are resources to raise interest in STEM fields, learn more about career opportunities and even find STEM internships that target students at a young age to cultivate their desire to pursue a career in STEM.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has pushed for statewide education reform that will improve the foundations of STEM education and inspire students to pursue STEM careers. Recently, Florida Senator Don Gaetz introduced a bill to the Senate that makes increasing STEM awareness a priority for educators. The bill is what he calls a “minor first step” in a statewide initiative that offers incentives to both students and educators. Under the bill, various STEM industries will be required to make available financial data that would be compiled into an “Economic Security Report.” Schools across Florida will be encouraged to share this report with students and parents so that students can see the financial rewards of pursuing a STEM career. Public schools with comprehensive programs that offer STEM industry certification classes will also receive extra funding for every middle and high school student enrolled in the classes.
The FTEEA is a professional education association that serves as a network for STEM educators across the state of Florida. The organization is dedicated to professional development by connecting educators with resources, seminars and programs that strengthen the foundation of their knowledge in STEM subjects, particularly technology and engineering. Another important goal is to help educators discover innovative new strategies of teaching to engage students and to ensure that lessons learned in the classroom are transferable to skills in the job market. The organization also seeks to strengthen the relationships between educators, government and STEM industries.
Florida TSA is the state chapter of Technology Students Association, a nationwide student organization that consists of over 150,000 middle and high school students across 48 states. TSA is a network of students, parents, educators, and businesses that enhance and expand upon STEM education in the classroom through a wide variety of extracurricular events, competitions and programs. In Florida, TSA is actively encouraged by the Department of Education to impart upon students the knowledge, confidenc and skills needed to excel in technology-related subjects, and to foster an interest in pursuing a STEM career. Florida TSA also offers several scholarships and recognition awards for students who demonstrate exemplary STEM performance.
FAST is the local embodiment of the National Science Teachers Association and is the state's largest non-profit association for the professional development of STEM educators. Science teachers, school administrators, scientists and business make up this network dedicated to the future of STEM industries and STEM education. According to their website, the goal of FAST is to "produce a society that understands the technology of its day and can make meaningful decisions as scientifically literate citizens." FAST offers awards and grants to science teachers, and through its conferences, resources and leadership development tools, helps educators continue innovating STEM education throughout Florida.