St. Petersburg is rapidly becoming known as a city where innovative public-private partnerships foster science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education among a diverse array of students.
Seven global STEM leaders now hope to replicate some of that success in their respective countries. St. Petersburg-based World Partnerships, part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, is leading a five-day tour through Wednesday (Nov. 1).
Women STEM champions from Antigua, Brazil, Norway, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Uzbekistan are exploring policies and partnerships that accelerate learning and participation – particularly among girls from diverse backgrounds. They discussed their journey into oft-exclusive industries and trip highlights Oct. 30 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
“It was really inspiring to see all the girls at the different high schools and how they had so much passion,” said Dr. Karoline Nielsen, an advisor for Norway’s National Center for STEM Recruitment. “You could see it in their eyes; they were so enthusiastic for the programs. It really gave a lot back to me, as well.”
The presentation was part of the annual Hidden No More: Empowering Women Leaders in STEM regional project. Nielsen and many of her colleagues have never visited the U.S., and the program also provides professional networking opportunities.
Stacey Payne-Mascall, assistant director of education for Antigua’s Ministry of Education and Sports, encouraged local leaders to visit the Caribbean country. She also expressed her amazement at the Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School at Seminole High School and Lakewood High School’s Center for Advanced Technologies.
“I came starving for this,” Payne-Mascall said. “To see the possibilities I could take back, the concepts. A school within a school – wow.”
Payne-Mascall said photos will help Antiguan education officials build similar facilities. She also realized introducing girls to STEM education at an early age fosters future success.
A USFSP student from Jamaica noted that many young people leave the Caribbean due to a lack of STEM education and career opportunities. Payne-Mascall said school curricula must better reflect in-demand industries.
“I was fascinated to learn that there are advisory boards in schools with people from industries that inform the curriculum because we don’t have that,” she added. “We have got to bring that authentic learning experience into the classroom.
“I can’t build it fast enough to save the people who are already there, but I have to try.”
Cecilia Meira, an organizational culture analyst at Brazil’s Recife Center for Advanced Systems Studies (CESAR), was impressed by Lakewood’s intentional efforts to increase diversity in STEM education. She called the commitment among faculty a “game-changer.”
Meira also noted the importance of allowing children to make, and learn from, their mistakes. Like many panelists, she appreciated the opportunities for collaboration among local schools and businesses.
“To have so many facilitators in so many steps of the way is fantastic,” Meira said. “Different ways of tackling the same problems with a lot of help from the community itself.”
Several local organizations facilitated the World Partnerships Hidden No More project. Those included Pinellas County Schools (PCS) STEM Explorers Program, the U.S. Bureau of Educational Affairs and the USFSP Student Government.
Catherine Mullins, secondary STEM instructional staff developer for PCS, and Charmaine Rushing, K-5 STEM Instructional staff developer for PCS, moderated the presentation and led tours of local schools. Gary Springer, CEO of World Partnerships, credited the two for opening doors and eyes.
“Watching them (the panelists) interact with our students today was very inspirational,” Springer said. “To see the look in these kids’ eyes – because they were looking at someone like them – and suddenly, the lights go on. It’s a great thing.”