BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – A new undertaking in northern Brevard County designed to open up opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to both children and adults unexpectedly had a large source of funding yanked during its second week of classes.
During last week’s announcement of vetoes from the state budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that $510,000 won’t be going towards the East Mims Learning Center and Innovation Lab.
Karen Curry, the executive director of the Tooley Community Development Group (TCDG), the organization behind the center, described the loss of funds as “devastating,” noting that they had plans to put that money towards renovating the former Cuyler School.
Curry said they plan to use the space for workforce training to help adults get into entry-level jobs in the aerospace sector. She said breathing new life into the historic school would also mean a lot to the Mims community.
“What we wanted to do was to bring it back to life again with the funds from the state. We wanted to transform this into a training center where we can prepare people to go out into the aerospace industry that is just booming in our area,” Curry said.
She noted that recently, State Senator Tom Wright said that the State of Florida will need an additional 800,000 STEM workers by 2040. She said even though losing the state funds is a blow, TCDG fully plans to find an alternate way to fund the renovation work.
“There’s no way we’re going to stop with the plans that we have for this community. It’s too important,” Curry said. “It’s too important for the community and it’s also too important for the economy of the State of Florida. They need these STEM workers over the next 10 years and we intend to have them from this community.”
The loss of revenue doesn’t affect the work currently underway at the center, which is the Summer STEM program. Several students started week two of the education, which features the start of work in robotics.
Julius Harris, a rising eighth grade student, said this program is his first foray into the world of coding and wanted to gain these skills in order to have a career fallback in case things don’t pan out with his Major League Baseball dreams.
“For a backup plan because I want to be in the MLB. So, just in case I get hurt, I want to have a backup plan for my life so I can succeed,” Harris said.
One of the benefits offered by the Learning Center is its partnership with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Following the rollout to the launch pad of the Space Launch System rocket in the overnight hours Monday morning, Kim Carter, an associate program manager for Exploration Ground Systems came to talk to the kids about working in STEM.
“It really is, especially in minority serving areas, to get the youth involved, get them excited about science, engineering, mathematics, to really let them know that it’s attainable,” Carter said. “There are so many diverse occupations, so many different things that you can do with your life.”
She also added that it’s a benefit for the kids that they can learn from people who look like them, who are currently successful in the STEM fields in places like NASA.
“To see that in someone that looks like them means a lot.”
Brevard County Schools is working with TCDG to develop a lease agreement regarding the Cuyler School. That’s set to be discussed at the next school board meeting.