My View: Educational leadership key to S. Florida’s STEM future

 

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Special To The Miami Herald

I read with great interest your recent article, “Miami ranks low for share of STEM jobs.” While the numbers paint a less than rosy picture of the availability of STEM jobs in South Florida, we at Florida International University, one of the largest producers of STEM graduates in the nation, are hard at work to reverse this trend.

Over the next decade, 18 to 19 percent of our graduates are expected to pursue STEM degrees. Already, we are the No. 1 producer of Hispanic engineers and the No. 8 producer of African-American engineers. In response to the need, we have greatly expanded our STEM-related programs, capitalizing on our state-of-the-art research facilities and award-winning faculty.

Unfortunately, we know that some of our best and brightest students are taking their talents elsewhere, in search of well-paying, high tech jobs in places like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Boston and Washington, DC.

Rather than sitting back and allowing our local economy to suffer the loss of such talent, leaders in education, economic development and research have formed a coalition to turn the tide on South Florida’s perceived “brain drain.”

Under the leadership of FIU President Mark Rosenberg and Frank Nero, the former president of the Beacon Council, in 2010, we launched Life Sciences South Florida, a consortium of public and private universities, state colleges, economic development councils and research institutions dedicated to the creation of a life sciences industry cluster in South Florida.

The goal of LSSF is to promote innovation, investment and entrepreneurship, while generating stable, sustainable and high-paying jobs. The initiative draws inspiration from successful regional industry clusters such as the Florida High Tech Corridor in Central Florida, Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle in North Carolina.

The effort brings together the vision and leadership of 16 institutions representing Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, including FIU, Scripps Florida, Max Planck Florida Institute, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Nova Southeastern University, University of Miami, Miami-Dade College, Broward College, Palm Beach State College, Indian River State College, the Beacon Council, the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Florida Atlantic Research Park and the University of Miami Life Sciences and Technology Park.

In addition to leveraging our combined life sciences assets with potential state, federal and private investment opportunities, the project also seeks to strengthen K-20 STEM education and talent development in the region.

Already, this relatively young initiative has shown success. In March, LSSF held the region’s first undergraduate STEM research symposium to showcase students’ high-quality, innovative research. More than 62 students from eight institutions participated, presenting their work to industry leaders and getting the opportunity to interact with local companies about future career opportunities.

Another key initiative that is well underway is a shared, online research portal for member institutions to share technological equipment and laboratory services.

We believe this kind of communication and cooperation is precisely what the South Florida region needs to begin to attract the kind of high-paying, high-quality jobs our graduates want and deserve.

Irma Becerra-Fernandez is vice president for Engagement at Florida International University. She holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and is a former director of the Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center at FIU.

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