Connecticut Science Center President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Fleury spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the new STEM Career Connections initiative launched by the Science Center this in August 2019.
NAN PRICE: Tell us about the new STEM careers initiative and how it will impact the Hartford region.
MATT FLEURY: The STEM Career Connections initiative is a natural honing of conversations about the importance, significance, and relevance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the lives of our community, its citizens, and its employers.
With the STEM careers initiative, we’re trying to illuminate for people—parents, kids, educators—the presence and availability of exciting jobs in the STEM disciplines here in Connecticut. We want to show them that these jobs are readily accessible by people from all facets of our community. And there are clear pathways to get those jobs that are more accessible, approachable, and affordable than many people perceive.
If we don’t prepare a workforce and successive generations of individuals to be ready for those jobs, employers won’t have the talent they need. The “magic” of Connecticut’s success over many years has been the talent we can offer employers in our innovating economy.
NAN: How will the new STEM Career Connections help create pipelines for youth to enter the workforce here in Connecticut?
MATT: The Science Center’s unique role in creating a pipeline of talent for Connecticut is our reach at a highly influential age in a young person’s life. If, by the age of 13, you see yourself in a STEM career, research shows that you’re two times or more likely to actually be doing something in those fields as an adult.
So, engaging kids at an early age is critical because, if you don’t provide a spark—some sort of inspiration—it can be an uphill battle to encourage kids to take an interest in STEM learning, which potentially leads to a career in STEM. It’s important because there are so many terrific opportunities right here in Connecticut. And we have to make sure we connect people to those opportunities. That’s why we call the initiative STEM Career Connections.
NAN: Let’s talk about those connections. In what ways is the Science Center helping to introduce those pathways?
MATT: Our STEM Career Connections initiative is deliberately pulling together different players in the pipeline between childhood and academic studies and training and a career. So, we bring together employers, career counselors from schools or colleges, enrollment officers from community colleges, and practitioners who can model what it looks like to be a STEM professional.
In many cases, we can help them envision themselves in STEM careers. For example, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our diverse community could see and meet women who are successful in the science field or minorities who are successful with technology? We can showcase that.
We want to enable kids to see themselves as part of that future. We do that through as many of our contact points as possible, from our activities and programming to our exhibit galleries to our engagements at local libraries and schools. We strive to provide real-world perspectives and represent real-world practitioners to make things more personal and tangible.
We created a sharp logo with an iconic message we’ll display at many of our exhibits to indicate that this is a place or a science topic where you find a STEM career opportunity.
NAN: From a wider perspective, tell us about the role the Connecticut Science Center plays in the community.
MATT: In the early 2000s, the Connecticut Science Center was envisioned by leaders at the state level, among industry, the community, and educators who recognized that our country and our state were losing our historical and traditional advantage as a base of great human talent. Other countries and competing economies were outpacing ours in the recruitment and graduation of people in the science fields, which would threaten our leadership as an innovation-based economy. Here in Connecticut, that has always been our story.
So, the Connecticut Science Center was created to visually and publicly reassert—the way our dramatic building does on the Hartford skyline—that Hartford and Connecticut still see ourselves as a place of innovation. Inside our building, we deliver on that message by inspiring people with specific experiences to see themselves as part of that culture now and going forward. And, through the STEM Career Connections Initiative, they can see themselves in those fields.
NAN: How can Hartford become known as an innovation hub—and what role does the Connecticut Science Center play?
MATT: We need to develop a critical mass around innovation and technology as a community. There are great assets to build on here in Connecticut and we need to celebrate and support them more.
The Science Center is a part of creating that energy. What’s exciting is that, since we opened 10 years ago, we’re able to look around and say it’s not just us any longer. We now have science, technology, and innovation neighbors ranging from MakerspaceCT in the old G Fox building to the Stanley Black & Decker Manufactory 4.0 to UConn Hartford, the University of Connecticut’s new campus downtown, not to mention several innovation initiatives in InsurTech, FinTech, and digital health—all adding to the already rich array of creative cultural institutions that are part of that innovative culture we’re creating. From the genomic sciences cluster to the west to the engineering and R&D centers of United Technologies to the east, the region is increasingly thick with technology.
Hartford has made a ton of progress if you go back to the genesis of the Connecticut Science Center around the turn of the century. If we can double that progress in the next 10 or 20 years, we’ll see a much different community that’s ever more innovative, enticing, and exciting.