Editor’s Note: This is an excerpted article that originally appeared at the Community College Daily.
Neither Manuel Rivera, a respiratory therapy student at Valencia College in Florida, nor Edleshia Leverette, who is studying process technology at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, planned to enter middle-skill technical fields but are now motivated to advance in their careers.
They are among 29 exemplary community college students recognized as Siemens Technical Scholars, a program launched by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Siemens Foundation to raise public awareness about opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
Panelists at a briefing at the Aspen Institute Oct. 26 spoke about the problems the Siemens Technical Scholars program hopes to address: Companies have shortages of employees with the right technical skills, while too few young people are aware of the high-paying jobs available to people with associate degrees in STEM fields.
The Siemens scholars were nominated by outstanding middle-skills STEM programs at community colleges. The students received scholarships of $3,500 to $10,000 that they can use to pay off student loan debt or to continue their education.
The winning students not only have exceptional GPAs, they also have strong personal attributes that enabled them to overcome obstacles and persevere in college, said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program.
Outstanding college programs
The Siemens scholars are enrolled in STEM programs with high rates of success at eight community colleges:
- Instrumentation and process technology at Brazosport College (Texas)
- Power Plant Technology Institute at Indian River State College (Florida)
- Energy department at Lake Area Technical Institute (South Dakota)
- Health information technology at Miami Dade College (Florida)
- Process technology at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
- Precision machining technologies and surgical technology at Renton Technical College (Washington)
- Cardiovascular technology at Santa Fe College (Florida)
- Respiratory care at Valencia College (Florida)
The students’ stories will be broadly shared regionally and nationally to highlight the opportunities in middle-skill STEM programs.
Motivation to succeed
Rivera and Leverette spoke about their path to college and career plans in a panel moderated by Siemens USA President Eric Spiegel. Rivera was told by a high school teacher that he “wasn’t college material” and had planned to join the military when a family crisis forced him to rethink his life. His young son nearly drowned when he had been left alone in a bathtub by a babysitter and was given only a 10 percent chance of survival.
The baby eventually pulled through thanks to the care of respiratory therapists, and that inspired Rivera to pursue an associate degree in that field at Valencia College. He finds the courses challenging but rewarding, and he is motivated to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree and work with children as a physician’s assistant.
“I never thought I would be a healthcare worker, but life has a funny way of working out,” Rivera said.
Leverette had wanted to be a teacher but found “that wasn’t for me,” switched to pipefitting, then someone suggested she try process technology, a career she’d never heard of.
After enrolling in the process technology program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, she found, “this is something I could see myself doing.” She would like to work on an offshore oil rig, become a head operator and eventually move up to a being a supervisor.
Jobs like the ones those two students are preparing for are “springboards to the American dream,” said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation.
Community college graduates in STEM fields qualify for jobs with salaries of $50,000 or more, Wyner noted, and one-third of associate-degree holders earn more than the average salary earned by people with bachelor’s degrees.
Siemens, a company based in Germany involved with transportation, energy, the utility grid, healthcare technology, advanced manufacturing and other sectors, has 46,000 employees in the United States, Etzwiler said. But only about half of those jobs require a four-year degree.
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