There was something off about the usual hustle and bustle of the Florida Capitol on Tuesday morning; empty corridors and courtyards were replaced with demonstrations of new age technology — and bright, young students from across the state smiled as they watched passersby marvel at their work.
The scenery was for STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and math — Day at the Capitol. The event is hosted annually by Orlando Science Center and Motorola Solutions Foundation to demonstrate to legislators the growing economic significance of STEM education in the state.
“If you see all these robots, rockets and vehicles,” Matt Blakely, executive director of Motorola Solutions Foundation, told media in the Capitol courtyard. “Please do not be afraid. It’s not the start of the robot apocalypse — these are actually very friendly creations made by the very inventive and smart students that you see all around you.”
Blakely said the projects, which ranged from robots capable of projecting plastic balls into the air to solar-powered, golf-cart-like vehicles, were built by teams of students. He said that companies like Motorola understand the importance of investing in STEM education because it fosters the skills necessary for a rapidly changing workforce.
In the past five years, Blakely said, Motorola Solutions has given $2.3 million to support charitable education programs in Florida.
But the point of bringing the show to Tallahassee likely is to encourage state officials to get on board with policies that would aid or facilitate STEM growth in the state.
And to that end, at least one government official already seems to be on board.
— OrlandoScienceCenter (@orlandoscience) February 13, 2018
Department of Economic Opportunity head Cissy Proctor said in-demand jobs frequently require STEM education. Therefore, Proctor said, ensuring Florida students have the opportunity to engage in STEM training at every level of education is “critical” for the future of the Sunshine State’s economy.
“[DEO] wants education and economic policy to flow from what’s actually happening on the ground in the labor market,” Proctor said. “And that’s why STEM focus is so critical.”
Orlando Science Center President and CEO JoAnn Newman described her organization as an “inspiration business,” awing STEM hopefuls with simulations and programs that “stimulate curiosity.”
“STEM is more than a buzzword,” Newman said. “It’s about our future.”