2012 STEM Summit: Closing the Skills Gap an Economic Imperative

The following is a news release from the Maine STEM Collaborative, of which the Maine Department of Education is a member.

WATERVILLE – From precision manufacturing to environmental science and information technology, Maine will see thousands of highly paid jobs created across the state in the next 10 years. But mounting evidence shows that Maine continues to do a poor job producing enough workers with the skills necessary to work in these high-paying industries.

Anita Bernhardt of the Maine Department of Education speaks at the start of the 2012 Maine STEM Summit.
Anita Bernhardt, science and technology specialist at the Maine Department of Education, welcomes participants to the 2012 Maine STEM Summit.

Today, more than 300 people gathered at Colby College to identify concrete steps the state can take to prepare Maine’s workforce for  success in the 21st century.  The 2012 STEM Summit was organized by the Maine STEM Collaborative, a group of business, education and policy leaders committed to building a STEM-literate workforce.

Anita Bernhardt, STEM specialist at the Maine Department of Education and co-organizer of the 2012 STEM Summit welcomed the group. “Ensuring that students have the skills they need to pursue the careers that are available in Maine is an economic imperative,” she said. “Today we will turn a corner from awareness to engagement. People get that STEM is important. Maine companies are interested in increasing the number of students who get on STEM career paths. But we won’t get there by focusing on classroom learning alone, we must also help kids understand how these subjects exist in the world around them.”

Throughout the day a series of presenters and panelists discussed how Maine can move beyond raising awareness of STEM issues and work toward solutions.  In addition to the presentations, participants took part in 16 breakout discussions. The topics were determined through pre-conference discussions that took place among attendees online. When people signed up, they could introduce themselves and exchange ideas with the group. From these discussions, the 16 breakout topics were established.

Recent statistics show that in the next 10 years there will be approximately 3,400 jobs created in the information technology and precision manufacturing fields, but Maine will only graduate 780 people with the skill necessary to do those jobs. This information was collected by economists at Planning Decisions Inc. in their 2011 Closing the Gap report.

Additionally, Maine ranks 51st in the country in the awarding of Ph.D’s in the physical sciences.

Habib Dagher of the University of Maine presents at the 2012 Maine STEM Summit.
Habib Dagher, Founding Director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, discusses "Maine's Wind Power Potential and STEM."

“It is troubling that we don’t stack up well against other states. But even more problematic is that Maine  is simply not going to be prepared to meet our own STEM workforce needs unless something significant is done,” said Jan Mokros, Executive Director of the Maine Math and Science Alliance and co-organizer of Tuesday’s event. “We need to address student performance and aspirations, teacher qualifications and preparedness as well as the state’s capacity to foster STEM in general.“

Presenting at today’s event were:

  • Michael Dubyak, CEO, Wright Express
  • Dr. Habib Dagher, Director of the Advanced Structures & Composites Center
  • Sarah Kim, Vital Signs Project Director, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
  • Anne Gauthier, Public Affairs Manager, Texas Instruments
  • Glenn Willson, Professor and Advisor to the IT Initiative, University of Southern Maine
  • Suzanne Hamlin, Founder of Transformative Knowledge Group
  • Dr. Rafael Grossman Zamora, Trauma Surgeon, Eastern Maine Medical Center

“Today’s summit was a big step towards building a pipeline that turns interested students into qualified employees. To keep that going, we need everyone who was here today to walk out the door engaged in a collective effort. Only then can we close the skills gap and give Maine’s students the best chance in this  ever changing economy.” said Mokros.

*Closing the Gap, September, 2011. Planning Decisions Inc.

David Loughran | Maine STEM Collaborative | 207-749-9078
David Connerty-Marin | Maine Department of Education | 207-624-6880 | 207-831-3313