STEM Career Fair shows off 36 job avenues for aspiring students

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PITTSFIELD — Hundreds of students were encouraged to explore the STEM study and career fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics on Friday, during the 11th annual STEM Career Fair held at Berkshire Community College. There were 36 presenters, all based in Berkshire County, from high-tech manufacturers to environmental and educational institutions based in the community and on college campuses.

"I think it gets bigger and bigger each year," said Constance "Connie" West, senior special programs coordinator for the state's STEM Starter Academy at BCC, a pathway program to help high school students transition into the fields at a collegiate level.

STEM fields are increasingly touted as growing sustainable job opportunities of the present and for the future.

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publication, there were nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015, representing 6.2 percent of U.S. employment. Computer occupations made up nearly 45 percent of STEM employment, with an additional 19 percent of jobs in engineering. Data also indicates that STEM jobs are projected to grow by more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022.

During her address to career fair attendees, BCC Dean for Community Engagement, Education and Workforce Development Jill Sasso Curtis said her research indicates there are some 227 different kinds of STEM careers available worldwide.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Winter 2016 Salary Survey, graduates with at least a bachelor's degree a STEM field were projected to have top earning, over other fields like education, the humanities and communication. Those in an engineering position typically earned an average annual salary of $64,891 that year.

Jessica Zamboni, who left her high school in Lenox early to begin her studies through the STEM Starter Academy, is now in her third semester at BCC and is on track to graduate this spring and will continue her studies in the biology and pre-medical fields. Now 18, she said the program supports her socially and financially, bearing both friendships, scholarship money and even an iPad devise to support her school work.

Zamboni now mentors students, who like her, are interested in a STEM degree, but are unsure which discipline to pursue.

"It's a really good program to help you figure that out," she said.

She said she's now leaning towards a career in pathology field, and continuing her education at Framingham State University because of its multi-million dollar science center expansion completed a couple of years ago, and its proximity to metropolitan STEM employers.

But in Berkshire County, various school and community-based institutions are expanding their STEM offerings to entice students to train, live and work closer to home.

During Friday's fair, there was a robust showing from the school's respiratory care program, which combines knowledge bases in biology, chemistry, physiology and math, among other disciplines. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows respiratory therapists in 2016 earning a median wage of $58,670 a year and a projected 23 percent growth between now and 2026, by more than 30,000 jobs.

Third-semester respiratory care student Isabeau Bryan sees the medical field, especially in Berkshire County, as the place to be.

"The field is changing. People are living for longer and longer and they're going to need care. These kinds of jobs are never going to go away," she said.

Bryan ultimately wants to be an ultrasound technician, a field projected to grow by 17 percent, with a median annual salary of $64,280. But she says the respiratory program at BCC has given her a lot of hands-on experience being in a clinical setting, which she can use wherever she ends up.

Lindsey Berkowitz and Moriah McKenna, programs director and associate respectively, of the Young Women in Science initiative of Flying Cloud Institute, said their mission is to help local student begin to figure out a pathway early on, even as early as elementary school, so that they're better prepared to take on the rigors and challenges of the ever-evolving STEM fields.

During the STEM Career Fair, McKenna said their goal was to get students to "open up to discussing what their science interest is." By doing so, she said that Flying Cloud and its educator network can better help open up to students resources and connections to help them along the way.

"We can help them find internships and job opportunities and even be a liaison to scholars," said McKenna. "We need more women especially in science and technology fields, like computer science, chemical engineering, electrical engineering. But first, we need to get them to think about it."


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