2nd Annual Greater Antelope Valley STEMposium a Success:

Byline: By JULIE DRAKE Valley Press Staff Writer

Headline: Expert: In engineering world diversity is key

Story Text: 
LANCASTER Engineers not only need to know the fundamentals of their field but also be good communicators, industry panelists said Tuesday as educators and business and industry leaders gathered for the second annual STEMposium to discuss the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and Career Technical Education in the Antelope Valley.

Antelope Valley College, in collaboration with Cerro Coso College in Ridgecrest, California State University, Long Beach-Lancaster Engineering program, Antelope Valley Union High School District, and the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance, played host to the event, conducted for the second consecutive year at the John P. Eliopulos Hellenic Center.

The keynote speaker was Lt. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowski, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center of the United States' Air Force Space Command.

The event included presentations by Elaine Shen of Beacon Economics; Tom O'Neil, Antelope Valley College conference co-chairman and students from Antelope Valley, Knight and Palmdale high schools' respective STEM academies.

An industry panel discussion, moderated by Vicki Medina, executive director of the Antelope Valley Board of Trade, featured Ben Diachun, vice president of engineering for Scaled Composites; Mike Huggins, chief of Space and Missile Propulsion Division for the Air Force Research Laboratory Propulsion Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base; Brett Hawse, president of Instream; and Dr. David Bronstein, physician in charge of Kaiser Permanente's Palmdale medical office.

Asked what their current needs are for STEM-trained employees, Scaled Composite's Diachun said they look for candidates with solid engineering credentials who have mastered the fundamentals but who also have strong communication and problem-solving skills.

"We have small teams and we need our technicians to be able to communicate clearly on those small teams," Diachun said.

As they screen applicants, he added, they look at three things: education, work experience and hobbies.

A hobby such as building an airplane or restoring a car can show an employee is motivated enough to take on a challenge by themselves.

Hawse said the "perfect" hire would have the technical skill as well as fundamental business knowledge and an understanding that it costs money to experiment on the development side of the business.

"That is somebody that I really look for strongly," Hawse said.

Huggins said they work with a lot of industries in the STEM world and that in the engineering world diversity is the key. The lab offers internships to high school students and teachers.

He said high school students need to be prepared to come to work and that educators can help them with that.

"There is a respect for the workplace and they need to be taught," Huggins said.

He praised the students who did presentations at the STEMposium, including members of Palmdale High School's Health Careers Academy, for their uniforms and things of that nature.

"Those are all positive skills sets that we would look for in our internships," Huggins said.

Bronstein said in terms of skills they are looking for people who can communicate. He said it's not how much medical knowledge of understanding a person has but how he or she can communicate that to patients.

"It's how well you can communicate how you show patients you care," Bronstein said.

Bronstein agreed that diversity also is important, noting he is the only Spanish-speaking pediatrician in Kaiser's Lancaster and Palmdale offices.

"That's something where, especially when we're hiring, that's something that we need to be looking at," he said.

AV High School juniors Brianna Doratt, 16, and Shaunna Lester, 16, gave a presentation on their school's Green Enterprises academy, which focuses on business and engineering.

"I came out here to learn more about the industry and different companies that deal with this type of thing," Brianna said. "With the last panel, the industry panel, I saw some opportunities with my career in the future with scholarships and internships and that's going to really help me with this year and next year."

Shaunna said she wanted to come to the STEMposium to show other schools what AV High has.

"I learned a lot that will also help me with my future. It also gives me hope that I can go to college and get a successful job and everything."

Palmdale High senior Andrew Lozano, 17, said the STEMposium was a good experience.

Andrew and senior Amy Young, 17, did a presentation about the Health Careers Academy.

"It seemed like a great way to advocate for what I've been doing in high school and what I've learned. I also liked seeing all the other academies because you see everybody's different take on STEM," Andrew said.

Amy said she wanted to attend the STEMposium and hear about the different academies as well as let other people know how the Health Careers Academy has helped her grow as a person.

Student Lucas Vasquez, 13, an eighth grader at Joe Walker Middle School, was part of a team that showed off the robots the school's VEX Robotics team built.

"I learned pretty much that cooperation is a key part of getting a job and that it's not so much how much you know about your field, it's about how you can collaborate with other co-workers," Lucas said of the industry forum.

Also taking place was an education panel discussion.

Christos Valiotis, associate professor of physics at Antelope Valley College, and co-chairmain of the STEMposium, said the local economy is dependent on aerospace and more recently, alternative energies such as wind and solar and industries that deal with electric cars. In addition, the health care industry requires more STEM-trained employees as well as manufacturing.

"A lot of new companies require STEM-trained employees," Valiotis said. "If you put this all together, about 85% of our economy has some kind of relationship with STEM. If we don't have local people grow from our own area then we face the usual problem that everybody does, trying to recruit people from outside."

The average stay for those employees is about two years. The Valley is one of the most heavily-populated in terms of engineering density with 2½ engineers per 1,000 employees. The national average is 0.4 engineers per 1,000 employees.

Valiotis said AV College took the lead to bring all of the stakeholders together to show industry leaders what they can do, what AV Union High School District and middle schools can do and whether they are producing the proper graduates for them with the skills they need.

from: Antelope Valley Press