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Springfield Tech CC, High Schools to Start STEM Academy

Initiated by a $1 million state grant, the STEM Tech Career Academy at Springfield Technical Community College will be one of five such programs in Massachusetts which could enroll up to 2,000 students in the coming years.

Springfield Technical Community College
Springfield Technical Community College is among the recipients for workforce training funds.
Don Treeger/The Republican/TNS
(TNS) — Collaborating with two high schools, Springfield Technical Community College is starting a program designed to get high-school students into technical careers in business, health care, manufacturing and financial services.

On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced that the college — partnering with Veritas Prep Charter School and West Springfield High School — received a $1 million grant to start a STEM Tech Career Academy.

Polito, in a statement announcing the grants, said companies often struggle to fill jobs in fields related to STEM, short for science, technology, engineering and math. These jobs include positions such as data analysts and biotechnicians.

"This new initiative will make it easier for students who start on a college or career pathway in high school to continue on that course and go on to earn degrees or credentials, and eventually land a well-paying job in a STEM field," Polio said.

The STEM Tech Career Academy at Springfield Technical Community College will be one of five such programs across the state which could enroll between 1,600 to 2,000 students in the coming years, according to the Baker-Polito administration. The six-year program will be at no cost to students.

The program borrows elements from the state's Innovation Pathway and Early College programs, such as career and college coaching, a technical curriculum and opportunities to do work-based learning, according to the Executive Office of Education. It is modeled after the school model P-Tech, which was originally started by The City University of New York, New York City Department of Education and IBM.

The STEM Tech Career Academies, Baker said in a statement, will "create more intentional links between high schools, community colleges and employers."

Industry partners in the STEM initiative at Springfield Technical Community College include Baystate Eye Care Group, Each Moment We're Alive, Walgreens, and Springfield Thunderbirds Hockey Club.

Each Moment We're Alive, a nonprofit that provides after-cancer mentoring and support, has been working with the West Springfield High School Innovation Pathway program.

Executive director Cindy Sheridan Murphy said the organization is currently in the interview process for two information technology positions. Students will be working on a newsletter, assisting with web design, the day-to-day promotional materials and social media.

"It's wonderful because is tough for nonprofits to get everything," Murphy said. "It is hard to get funding and it is hard to get help."

The main reason for the initiative is the increased need for individuals going into STEM careers as the state projects STEM occupations to account for 40% of total employment increases in Massachusetts, outpacing other careers.

So far, Wesley Carter, program director of innovation pathways at West Springfield High School, said about a quarter of the students at the school are already enrolled in either the Innovation Pathways and the Early College programs and the funds will help reach more students.

The Innovation Pathway and Early College programs allow students to complete college prerequisites in foundational courses like English, math and history while also earning their high school diplomas, he said.

"The impact is going to be everything, from support with tuition, the build-up, administration fees and to procuring new technology," Carter said.

According to Carter, the grant will help expand instruction in high-demand industries like health care and social assistance, advanced manufacturing, business and finance and information technology.

The STEM academy will provide work-based learning opportunities with paid internships and capstone projects to students, said Matthew Gravel, dean of academic initiatives at Springfield Technical Community College, with the goal of increasing the number of students who earn associate degrees or industry certificates.

"It will not be a physical building but the goal is to do the work on a greater scale," Gravel said.

Officials noted the initiative will also address inequalities and opportunity gaps for women and marginalized minority groups often underrepresented in STEM industries.

Currently, the Early College and Innovation Pathway programs are offered to students during junior year but, Carter said, he is now looking to engage sophomores and encourage students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

The goal for West Springfield High School is to enroll about 70 students per graduating class in the STEM academy, Carter said.

©2022 The Republican, Springfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.