Building the STEM Workforce of the Future

By Heather Cass

Publications manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

As the number of jobs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields continues to grow, industry leaders and educators are recognizing the need to start “recruiting” early. Very early, as in, elementary-school early.

In the early years, however, “recruiting” looks nothing like people in ties and suits sitting at desks. It looks more like an engineer in a sweatshirt and jeans overseeing a noisy and boisterous game of life-size Jenga, or a high-school robotics team member encouraging kids to pilot a LEGO robot through a maze, or a chemistry major helping kids concoct a bubble they can hold in their hands.

“It starts with getting young children interested in and excited about STEM concepts,” said Melanie Ford, director of Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach efforts and a lecturer in computer science and software engineering.

That’s why, for the last three years, GE Transportation and Penn State Behrend have teamed up to host a STEM Fair that is open to the public and geared toward students of all ages. This year’s fair is Monday, February 20, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Junker Center.

In addition to at least a half dozen GE divisions and nearly twenty Penn State Behrend clubs and organizations, a variety of other Erie STEM companies and organizations, including Erie Insurance, the Erie Maritime Museum, Acutec, and Cummins, will also join in the fun.

“Every table will have some sort of hands-on component or activity,” Ford said. “The funny thing is when younger kids are doing these activities, they don’t even realize that they are experimenting and exploring in chemistry, physics, math, and engineering. They’re just learning that STEM can be fun and challenging.”

They are not the only ones having fun. The business and industry professionals, faculty members, and Behrend students who volunteer at the event are having a blast, too.

“Our students really step-up for our outreach events, and they clearly enjoy sharing their knowledge with the younger generation,” Ford said. “They think what they do is cool and they pass that passion on. The added bonus is the college students end up with a better understanding of these concepts as well.”

Join in the STEM fun – Monday, February 20, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Junker Center

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Rachel Cotton finds niche with BVZ: Behrend’s Voice

rachel-cotton-bvz-radio

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

If Penn State Behrend’s students have not seen their classmate Rachel Cotton on campus, there’s a good chance they’ve heard her.

For listeners of BVZ: Behrend’s Voice, the college’s online student radio station, Cotton’s voice is a hard one to miss.

The junior communication major serves as station manager of BVZ and can be regularly heard across the cyber waves hosting her current show, “Next in Line,” where she previews upcoming artists. She also is happy to jump in and deejay whenever there’s a lull in programming.

She knows that professional radio jobs may not be easy to attain, but that has not stopped Cotton from positioning herself to be an ideal candidate for a future opening in the field.

“If I could ever make it in radio, that would be the best thing ever,” said Cotton, who is originally from the Philadelphia area. “Having a great personality in radio is so important, and you get to create an emotional appeal. I love it.”

Cotton’s love of radio is nothing new. In high school, she actually won a contest where she got to be a deejay on a local station for a day.

She brought her love for the medium to Behrend as she got involved with BVZ, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in November, early in her freshman year. As a sophomore, she served as PR and events manager for the station before becoming its manager this past fall.

In the past, students could not join BVZ or host a show on the station before first completing the Radio Practicum course, but Cotton saw limitations with this formula.

“There are people who necessarily cannot take the class or might be in a different major where they can’t have it as an elective,” Cotton said. “I wanted to find a way around the class, so folks in any major can find a way to participate.”

This past fall, Cotton developed a BVZ Fast Track program for students who want to host a radio show but cannot take the course. Cotton meets with interested students separately and runs them through the basics of operating a live station in just a few weeks. So far, four students have participated in the program. Cotton said she eventually hopes to have 10 to 20 students going through it at once.

BVZ continues to build its presence on campus as the station hosts weekly “Hump Day” broadcasts from Bruno’s Café. The station is also always willing to collaborate with student groups if the organization would like BVZ at an event it’s hosting.

The station has already worked with some student groups, which Cotton said has helped BVZ spread its reach.

“People love when we come out to events,” she said. “We have been at more events this year than I can ever remember. It’s stellar to see that people are noticing us more and not just for giveaways or concert tickets, either. They’re actually listening to hear us. I love it.”

To listen to BVZ, visit behrendbvz.org.

Students interested in joining BVZ and taking part in the Fast Track program should contact Cotton at ryc5136@psu.edu.