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New York Ed. Commissioner Tours STEM Classrooms

Lucas Willard
A robot in action at the Early College Career Academy Advanced Manufacturing program at SUNY Adirondack

State education commissioner MaryEllen Elia made an appearance Thursday at the Early College Career Academy on the campus of SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, in southern Warren County.

In the Advanced Manufacturing track, student Ryan Kelleher was demonstrating a small robot programmed to stack blocks.

“Now, you can see input one went off because it picked it up off of that button. So that tells it to move on to the next loop,” said Kelleher.

The 11th and 12th graders in the program spend part of their day taking courses at the college and can earn up to 27 credits, putting them on track for an associate’s degree.

The program has been operating at SUNY Adirondack for three years. Instructor Gage Simpson said in addition to courses in engineering and science, the students also learn leadership and public speaking skills. 

“Just because you have a great idea, doesn’t mean it’s going to get made. You have to be the one to pitch it, sell it, and make sure that everybody understands what you really want. I mean, there’s a lot of patents out there that don’t get made because nobody was able to really explain the overall concept of that,” said Simpson.

Elia was impressed by the students.

“You listen to these students and just their presentation skills tell you they have matured and they’ve seen things and had experiences that you wouldn’t normally have in a high school setting.”

Students are given opportunities to shadow at local companies, earning real-world experience at businesses in their own backyard.

Elia said Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal includes funding to expand Early College High School and P-TECH schools in New York.

“We really see that as a key part of connecting our students in high school and the work force that they’re ultimately, we hope, going to be part of,’ said Elia.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat who represents portions of Washington and Saratoga Counties, is also vice president and general manager of a local software company. She joined Elia for visits to a middle and elementary school in Saratoga Springs.

“This is amazing, but when you hear a third grader talking about engineering a robot to move things from one place to another, you totally feel outclassed.”

State Senator Betty Little, a Republican, was also impressed with the students and how they are able to connect to local employers.

“To the companies that see these kids, they realize the talent that we have here and the interest that these kids have, as well as what they’re learning in this program right in their own community. And they direct it toward manufacturing-type jobs that are available here,” said Little.

Elia said the future of education in New York should be more focused on connecting students with jobs, either at the high school or college level.

“I think there’s strong support for both," said Elia.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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