On October 21 from 10 am – 12 pm, over 100 Springfield Technical Community College students and local high school students tuned in to the STEM Careers Symposium hosted by STCC’s STEM Starter Academy. The diverse group of speakers included Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Dr. Carolyn Gardner-Thomas from Harvard, Dr. Trisha Andrew and Professor Brian Levine from UMass Amherst, and Dr. Molly Senn-McNally from UMass Medical and Baystate.

The Lieutenant Governor started off the symposium the importance of STEM careers in our current pandemic and the value of women, especially women of color, getting involved in the field. To stress the importance of following your passion she stated: “A job is something you have to do, a career is something you are excited to do”. Her goal is to diversify the STEM workforce within the state, as it is currently 76% Caucasian/white workers. Having started a science conference for girls before becoming Lieutenant Governor, she hopes to continue to push initiatives in public schools to get young students in underprivileged communities interested in STEM.

Dr. Trisha Andrew discussed her heavy involvement in organic electronics, which uses polymers as electronic materials to put on clothing or paper. Through the Wearable Electronics Lab, her and her colleagues have taken everyday clothing and added in sensors for your health which could assist in detecting a virus and more. Her company Soliyarn LLC creates sensored clothing, and any students interested in an internship are encouraged to apply. Dr. Andrew says what keeps her motivated is: “The infinite expectation of the dawn. You solved a problem today and the next day you’re gonna solve another one”.

Professor Brian Levine is part of the computer science department at UMass Amherst and enjoys combining the practical training of the field with philosophical theories. He explained a degree in Computer Science provides a person timeless principles and methods for computational thinking while a degree in Informatics provides the design, application, use, and impact of computation principles and technology. The median starting salary for these fields is $90,000 which contributes to the 90% of UMass Amherst Computer Science and Informatics graduates that report being satisfied with their first post-grad position. Professor Levine encourages all students at STCC or other community colleges to consider UMass Amherst, as it is designed to coordinate with transfers looking to pursue further degrees.

To bring the healthcare perspective, Dr. Molly Senn-McNally recounted her experience as a general pediatrician in Springfield and School Physician for the Springfield Public Schools. In the latter role, she works to change policies and promote physical and mental health for students and their parents. It was not until she was working at a homeless shelter that she met a doctor and considered the field for herself. The doctor stopped by to promote precautions those experiencing homelessness should take to avoid catching Tuberculosis. Through this, Dr. Senn-McNally recognized you can be in the medical field and contribute to social justice issues.

Her advice to students is: “If your education has been interrupted or you’re switching careers or you don’t know what you want to do, that is okay. You have time.”

To close out the program, Dr. Carolyn Gardner-Thomas from Harvard relayed the importance of mathematics. She lives by the Carl Freidrich Gauss quote “Mathematics is the Queen of science”, as it has importance in all aspects of the STEM field. It is not just equations, but a science based on patterns, logic, structure, and sense-making of the world. One of the most impactful quotes of the entire symposium came from Dr. Gardner-Thomas’s friend who passed from COVID-19 this year: “There is never a space you enter where you do not learn”

After the keynote speeches, students then entered breakout sessions and were able to ask a variety of questions to the panelists. The STEM journey of the different speakers was unique and inspiring. To conclude this event created awareness about the various Stem pathways and careers. I thank STEM Starter Academy at STCC for hosting this event.