An article in last week’s Miami Herald underscored a critical issue that those of us in the STEM community have already known to be true: Our students need more help in order to thrive in the global economy in which they will soon be entering.
As the article noted, only 32 percent of U.S. high school students graduating in 2011 were proficient in math. Of 65 nations participating in the Harvard University survey, the U.S. ranked 32nd.
Miami-Dade County students are also challenged by this issue. Thankfully, numbers are increasing because of Miami-Dade County Public School System’s enhanced commitment to math and science education, under Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s leadership, as well as its ever-growing partnership with the Miami Science Museum. In October, Miami-Dade was awarded one of the nation’s most prestigious recognitions — the Broad Prize for Urban Education — for improving student achievement, raising the graduation rates of minority students, and increasing the percentage of minorities reaching advanced levels on state exams.
For more than 20 years, the Miami Science Museum has worked to help reverse the course by paving a path for young people to embrace math and science-based careers. Beyond a simple visit, the museum encourages in-depth learning and offers a wide range of programs that correspond to the needs of different groups.
A particular area of emphasis has been toward college entry among at-risk students. For example, the Miami Science Museum’s Upward Bound program, which has just been awarded an additional four years of funding from the Department of Education, has been widely successful.
The high school graduation rate for UBMS Center participants for 2007-2011 was 98 percent as compared to an average of 54 percent at the target schools. Postsecondary enrollment immediately after high school was 91 percent, compared to 40 percent for target school students, and 64 percent of UBMS Center graduates selected a STEM major.
When the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science opens its doors in downtown Miami, every aspect of the building will provide an opportunity for exploration — from the rooftop, with an urban garden and exercise trail; to the Living Core, a structure that integrates wildlife habitats, aquaria and a one-of-a-kind Gulfstream Aquarium; to interactive science and technology exhibition galleries; to the Energy Playground and the River of Grass, a special place for younger visitors.
Opportunities for in-depth learning will also abound. The Knight Learning Center will provide a focus for schools, teachers, lifelong learning and local community groups, offering flexible learning spaces, research and a digital futures center. From the building’s design and exterior, to its programming and exhibition content, our new museum will focus on bringing new ideas to fruition and harnessing the creative skills that contribute to Miami’s great potential as a world class city.
None of this can be achieved without support from the community. The 2004 General Obligation Bond demonstrated the support of the community at large, ensuring that this remains to be the people’s museum.
This has been further reinforced by major gifts from key leaders in the community, notably the $35 million commitment from Patricia and Phillip Frost to name the building and the seven million dollar support from Board of Trustees co-Chairs Trish and Dan Bell. The Knight Foundation has also given us a one-two matching $10 million gift, which will no doubt inspire future donors to enable us to reach our full fundraising goal.
Our future is dependent upon our ability to educate, innovate, and move forward as a community. Numbers like the ones reported on this week further emphasize that we clearly have a lot of work to do. By producing, fostering, and attracting a qualified, skilled technical and creative workforce, we can ensure Miami’s viability and economic prosperity for decades to come.
Gillian Thomas is president and CEO of the Miami Science Museum, which will open its doors as the new Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science at Museum Park in 2015.