Educating Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Future

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In economic development, there’s always talk about making sure we create a sustainable environment for industry. One of the key factors in a sustainable environment is a sustainable workforce; a steady flow of employees who have the skills and training necessary to succeed in their fields for many years to come.

A sustainable workforce isn’t created overnight. It isn’t even created in the halls and classrooms of a technical school. A sustainable workforce starts with introducing grade school students to the possibilities of a STEM career.

Luckily, the Upstate has several upcoming opportunities to get students excited about STEM, and Oconee County is playing host to some of them.

iMAGINE Upstate is a weeklong celebration of STEM careers, entrepreneurship, and innovation in our region. During the week of March 30th-April 3rd, Duke Energy’s World of Energy in Oconee will host three interactive events that focus on different aspects of science and technology – DNA and biotechnology, natural resource conservation, and robotics. Each event is free, family-friendly, and open to the public.

STEM initiatives are not just limited to special events like iMAGINE Upstate. They are a year-long commitment at Oconee County schools, where teachers work to incorporate the excitement of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into everyday learning.

Once we introduce kids how fun STEM careers can be, we also have to let them know how much we need students and employees who are STEM experts. Again, the earlier we can get students excited about these possibilities, the better. Early exposure to career opportunities is one of the goals of the Anderson-Oconee-Pickens Business and Industry Showcase, held this past October at Clemson University. During the event, 5,200 eighth and ninth grade students met with representatives from over 60 companies to learn about futures in STEM fields in their backyards. While iMAGINE Upstate hopes to spark some inspiration in a future scientist, the Showcase focuses on that next step – planning how to turn that inspiration into a real career.

By exposing young students to the possibilities in new and emerging fields, we can also work with them and their parents to determine the best type of secondary education and training for their desired path. With the variety of STEM careers, a four year degree, two year degree, or certificate and training programs are all viable options, and matching the up-and-coming employees to the right type of training up front is critical to establishing a well-prepared workforce.

At the end of the day, sustainability in STEM careers is a cycle. If we share exciting opportunities in STEM careers with today’s students, they will hopefully be inspired to become tomorrow’s innovators in Oconee County.


Richard K. Blackwell is the executive director of Oconee Economic Alliance, which is a public-private nonprofit effort to accelerate job creation and capital investment, increase per capita income, diversify the local tax base and generate awareness of Oconee County as a business location. To learn more visit

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