Preparing students for next gen tech careers7 minutes
On a warm day in October in downtown Newark, NJ, a group of high school students investigated properties of sunscreen in a commercial-grade lab building that measures about the size of a baseball diamond. The 10,000 square-foot center features six working analytical laboratories and two virtual laboratory studios each equipped with a hybrid communications platform.
The center seeks to close the gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education by offering experiential learning to all Newark students in fifth through 12th grades with programs that improve students’ affinity and aptitude for technical careers, as well as professional development for teachers and real-world instruction led by volunteer professional scientists.
Inspiring future tech company CEOs
The center aims to work with 32,000 local students by 2019 and already supports many with labs that explore real-life scientific applications. The goal is to provide these students with a pathway to becoming the next generation of data scientists, programmers, information architects and tech company CEOs.
A commitment to helping students understand the kinds of jobs the future promises, and helping to train them for those positions, drove Panasonic to partner with local nonprofit leaders, as well as state and municipal officials to open Students 2 Science Newark Technology Center.
Panasonic’s involvement is not only an extension of our core principles but also our commitment to support local efforts that advance educational excellence. During the center’s opening ceremony, Tom Gebhardt, Chairman and CEO of Panasonic Corporation of North America, awarded a $1.5 million grant on behalf of the Panasonic Foundation.
Settings that drive ingenuity & innovation
The Foundation looks to schools as transformative learning environments that will drive innovation and ingenuity. One of its goals is to address the widespread gap between future jobs and lack of education in science, tech, engineering and math especially in low-income communities. This can have a devastating impact on prospects for employment. The statistics are sobering. “Nationally, just 25 percent of high school seniors are able to do grade-level math…Those numbers are egregiously lower among African-American and Hispanic students,” according to an NBC News report.
In New Jersey, home to Panasonic’s North American headquarters, roughly 20% of state students go off to college for STEM disciplines—one of the highest rates in the country.
But there is a gap. Of the 1.2 million public school students in New Jersey, a significant number live in communities with struggling schools that put them at a disadvantage for success in postsecondary education and the global workforce. Nationally, studies show that STEM education programs are dramatically under-resourced, particularly in low-income communities. By 2030, two-thirds of the fastest growing industries will require a postsecondary credential or degree. With the projected growth of STEM occupations, there is a critical need to provide students with access to opportunities that will unlock their potential and ignite their interest to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
Volunteers aim to do just that by offering expertise and enthusiasm. “With Panasonic being one of the leading companies in technology and being here in Newark, it’s a great chance for us to foster interest in next gen careers, especially with students who have curiosity in mathematics, science and engineering,” said Hamid James, a solutions architect based in Panasonic’s Newark headquarters, who volunteers at the center.
Understanding water pollution and impacts of sun screen
In the center, students work side-by-side with volunteer professional scientists using modern instrumentation to investigate critical world issues, such as the impact of global overpopulation on food sources, water pollution, pandemics, as well as the stuff of daily life, such as how sunscreen works. These real-world investigations are grounded in Newark's curriculum and the "Next Generation Science Standards"—rigorous science standards adopted by the state—and represent some of the most vital issues facing today's youth.
The center also offers its virtual labs, where students do hands-on, project-based learning with professional scientists right at their desks. This remote instruction broadens the center’s reach by eliminating geographic barriers and language constraints through Connectivity, a sophisticated proprietary communications platform available in 200 spoken languages with interpreters on demand. Teachers are also offered opportunities for professional development and technical assistance. Both in-lab and in-class instruction include mentoring, and curriculum compatible with the Next Generation Science Standards and career pathways for 21st century jobs.
As we look toward the future, it is evident that the talent that we have in our classrooms today will be the talent that occupies STEM jobs in the future. Investments made by the Panasonic Foundation continue to focus on incubating new ideas and developing public/private partnerships that directly impact students and provide them with the skills and credentials they are going to need to lead fulfilling and successful lives. At the same time, we continue to uphold the values of Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic who articulated seven basic principles (contribution to society, fairness and honesty, cooperation and team spirit, untiring effort for improvement, courtesy and humility, adaptability, gratitude) not long after founding the company in 1918. We are committed to funding forward-thinking initiatives such as the Students 2 Science Newark Technology Center and are extremely proud to stand alongside our partners in making investments in education that will prepare the future workforce that will drive innovation at Panasonic for the next 100 years.
Photography by Christopher Lazaro