St. Petersburg College will receive $2.5 million this year from the state to complete its Bay Pines Learning Center, a hands-on science learning complex adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway in Pinellas County. The funding was included in Florida’s $77 billion budget, which the Florida Legislature passed May 2 and Gov. Rick Scott signed on Monday.
The Learning Center will provide undergraduate research opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for students, professional development for faculty and teachers and an engaging outlet for the community to interact with and participate in science.
“This will be a completely new environment for studying environmental and marine science,” said John Chapin, Dean of Natural Science at SPC. “This environment will get people excited about science. It’s designed to raise enthusiasm about the natural world and further studies in science, not just among our students, but all students, including elementary, middle and high schoolers.”
The project received $2.5 million from the legislature last year, which helped cover planning and permitting. The $5 million project will eventually include:
- A traditional classroom building that can be divided into two rooms. Each classroom space will support both class and laboratory activities.
- A building to house ongoing, independent student research projects
- A multi-purpose building with capacity for 100 participants
Facilities also will include a docking area for small boats, a terrace and an area with saltwater tanks for unloading and cleaning specimens.
The center will better prepare teachers in STEM areas by offering certificates, in-service training and summer institutes to teachers, teaching assistants and administrators. It also aims to increase scientific literacy and life-long learning in science among students and community members.
Officials hope that by offering summer camps for middle and high school students, a venue for science fairs, and citizen science projects, students and their families will connect with nature and science.
STEM education is crucial, as those who work in these fields drive innovation, generate technological advances and play a key role in the growth and stability of the U.S. economy. Over the next ten years, these areas are expected to create 1.2 million jobs, but American business owners are increasingly concerned about a shortage of qualified workers for them.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration:
- 7 of the 10 projected fastest-growing occupations over the next 10 years will be in STEM fields
- STEM occupations have grown 8 percent in the last 10 years (2000-2010) and are expected to grow twice as fast (17 percent) in the next 10 years, compared to 9.8 percent for non-STEM occupations.
- 16 of the 25 highest-paying jobs in 2010 required STEM preparation
- STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM peers.
- A vast majority (80 percent) of jobs in the next decade will require technology skills.
At the Bay Pines Learning Center, SPC will collaborate with Admiral Farragut Academy, the City of Seminole, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, Pinellas County Schools and the U.S. Geological Society to bolster research activities, which has been shown to increase levels of engagement, success and degree completion.
At SPC, students can earn the following: