Blame it on “The Big Bang Theory” or Orlando’s proximity to the space coast, but interest in science and technology fields is on the rise in Central Florida.
And charter schools such as Orange County’s Orlando Science Schools, with its focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), are giving kids hands-on experiences with the next generation of tech.
At the university level, the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne is looking for ways to build strong links to local schools, and to help increase interest in STEM career paths.
At the start of fall the two schools formalized their partnership when OSS was named the first ever Panther Ambassador school.
Retired Navy Captain, aviator and two-time shuttle astronaut Winston Scott, now Florida Tech’s vice president for external relations and economic development, spoke to students about his career at the announcement presentation and encouraged them to follow their interests.
FIT senior Tabitha Beavers spoke about the 3D printer summer camp FIT runs, which is an opportunity for attendees to learn about the new technology by building their own 3D printer.
FIT and Beavers also donated a 3D printer to the students of OSS with the promise that she will come back soon to help the students develop projects to build with the printer.
OSS senior Ashley Gunter enjoyed the visit from FIT saying, “It was good for all of us to get to know FIT and we are especially glad to have the 3D printer that was donated.”
Victoria “Tori” Mullery, also a senior at OSS, is excited about the partnership for the mentorship opportunities.
“I think partnerships like this are a good thing for our school to develop. Mentorship programs offer the chance to create mutual learning experiences for us as well as the university students,” she said.
Opportunities to partner directly with university programs such as the Panther Ambassadorship are just one way in which charter schools like OSS attempt to set themselves apart from traditional schools.
Gunter was especially glad about the partnership for the younger kids at her school.
“This is great for them because they will have more time to take advantage of it,” she said. “They are being told early on about careers in STEM fields and that’s great because it means they won’t be limited in their thinking when it comes to choosing their own path.”
“[OSS] is doing an amazing job of cultivating students’ interest and deeper understanding of science. They have a very dedicated group of staff and students and we see this exchange as very valuable to both schools,” said Leslie Hielema, vice president of Florida Tech’s Orlando Center.
“We are thrilled to be working with FIT to identify ways to connect our students with higher learning potential,” said Orlando Science Schools Executive Director Dr. Yalcin Akin.
In the future the partnership will allow OSS students to take field trips to FIT and to participate in competitions in areas such as robotics. FIT is also working to develop summer and school break camps that could be brought to Orlando so that OSS students would not have to travel to Melbourne to participate.