The West Hempstead Public Library was the first of eight libraries on Long Island to open a new STEM center, which is funded by the Center for Science Teaching and Learning, on Jan. 27. Supported by a grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development, CSTL said it hoped to offer hands-on educational activities for children of all ages while helping young people and their parents understand more about careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Our schools are doing a really great job with it, but the idea is to get families more involved with STEM,” said Dr. Ray Ann Havasy, CSTL’s director. “If more people don’t understand the importance of STEM and how these careers help innovation, then the United States will be left behind.”
Havasy said that schools across the U.S. have invested billions of dollars in STEM education, and more than half of jobs in the country are STEM-related. Only 8 percent of children, however, have shown interest in STEM-related careers, she added.
“This is in stark comparison to 73 percent of Singapore students and 41 percent of students from Finland,” Havasy said. “The one exciting thing about the world of STEM is that the number of career possibilities have exploded, but you’ve got to find out about it, and that’s the purpose of this program.”
The STEM centers at the libraries, which also will be built in Franklin Square, Carle Place, South Huntington, Westbury, Central Islip, Wyandanch and Brentwood, include 3D printers and robotics equipment. Staff members will be trained by CSTL members to teach students STEM basics.
Families can explore the STEM center’s makerspace program, in which children will create their own inventions with items such as Popsicle sticks, clothespins and bristles for bots. Stuart Stein, of Woodmere, said that his family has taken part in several activities at CSTL, which is based in Rockville Centre. Each activity, Stein said, provides another opportunity for his children to learn while having fun.
“It’s a great activity for the kids to do because as they get older, you get to see them come up with bigger and better ideas,” Stein said.
During the CSTL’s public forums on its STEM centers last year, Havasy said, families were surprised by the statistics showing a minimal interest in STEM-focused jobs. Based on the feedback from local families, Havasy said she was convinced that people want to learn more about STEM and its opportunities.
“They know about doctors and nurses, but they don’t know what a nanotechnologist does,” she said. “Whatever aspect of STEM that they choose, I’m very happy because we need our young children desperately to fill those positions.”
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful addition to the library, and it’s a great opportunity to provide for the community,” said Regina Mascia, the West Hempstead Library’s director. “Sometimes you have programs for the kids or the teens alone, but I love to see the families working together.”
The West Hempstead Library will host a discussion, “Professionals in STEM, a Panel of People in Exciting STEM Careers,” to help families understand the field’s career opportunities on Feb. 11 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.