By Dani Moritz-Long
In most fields today, a transcript of course work and even a degree doesn’t suffice as sufficient experience to gain even an entry-level job. This is especially true in STEM fields.
“Work in STEM disciplines often involves highly technical, hands-on skills,” explained Laura Sessions, professor, chemistry. “Employers in STEM fields look for students with real laboratory or field experience to show mastery of these skills. So, our students must have the opportunity to learn by doing.”
To ensure students are able to do just that, Laura collaborated with Valencia colleagues to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical experience.
Through the Lockheed Martin Endowed Chair in Science, Laura developed a guided laboratory program designed to prepare Valencia’s STEM students with the skills and mindset required for scientific work.
By hosting students as interns and assistants in her lab, assigning students challenging research projects and exposing students to scientific conferences and local scientific organizations, such as the Florida Hospital Translational Research Institute, Laura is able to provide the kinds of experiences essential to professional development.
“Not only did I learn concepts in chemistry, but I learned things about myself that I did not know,” one student explained after completing Laura’s program. “You [Laura] have, let’s say, set a path on what I need to do to have a successful future.”
Another student commented, “I have learned to follow directions the way it is given. I have seen people use the tools improperly, which can ruin results. I like to be sure to use tools correctly as it helps decrease error. I think it will help in the industry because the results can be more accurate.”
The experiences have also led to students being placed in internships with organizations such as the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida.
For Laura, the successful placement of her students indicated success and highlighted the need for continued student opportunities.
“We need to expand undergraduate research opportunities for our students since these are what employers, graduate and professional schools require,” she said. “Giving students the opportunity to investigate authentic research questions, practicing science in a small group and helping these students to transition beyond the community college are listed as best practices for science education at community colleges by the Council on Undergraduate Research. The Lockheed Martin Endowed Chair in Science provided the opportunity for the creation of this framework so that students could practice scientific skills and techniques on a deeper level than traditional coursework allows.”
Laura looks forward to continuing to develop and refine student opportunities and is grateful for the opportunity to do so.