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State Sen. Ed Kennedy (D-Lowell) delivered his inaugural address on the Senate floor Wednesday, rising to speak in favor of a budget amendment he filed to secure $100K for the study and design of a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) building on Middlesex Community College’s Lowell Campus.
“It is an imperative step toward strengthening the STEM talent pipeline in the region and delivering critical access for a more diverse body of students to a field of study and employment in which Massachusetts is positioned at the helm,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy referenced Lowell and the region’s deep commitment to education and to being on the cutting edge of providing the training necessary to meet the needs of the changing marketplace for more than 120 years; from the establishment of the Lowell Textile School in 1897 to prepare the workforce for positions in the textile mills, to the creation of the Lowell Trade School in 1967 to prepare young people for jobs in plumbing, carpentry, auto repair and other trades, to the establishment of Middlesex Community College in 1970, an institution that has continuously amended and added to its offerings to meet the needs of the student population and job sector.
“A plaque greeting students and visitors outside of Lowell High School, the oldest co-educational and racially-integrated public high school in the nation, describes education as the most powerful lever of a democracy in raising the standard of its citizenship’,” Kennedy said.
“Throughout my career in public service, I have closely subscribed to this belief, and have held that a government should be measured by its commitment to education.”
In 1990, U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas urged Middlesex Community College to start a Biotechnology Program because emerging biotech companies in Massachusetts had to recruit employees from North Carolina. Today 200 students are enrolled in the program, which boasts a 100 percent placement rate in the biotech industry among graduates.
Middlesex Community College offers a variety of STEM areas of study in addition to Biotechnology including: Life Science, Physical Science, Computer Science, Engineering, Engineering Technology (CAD), Computer Forensics, Information Technology (IT), and Environmental Health. Graduates of these programs provide labor for local companies and health care facilities, as well as well-prepared transfer students to UMass Lowell and other 4-year colleges.
However, a 2015 DCAMM (Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) backed study demonstrated Middlesex Community College’s current science labs are oversubscribed and clearly identified the need for additional lab space. Current lab space is outdated and insufficient to keep up with Middlesex Community College’s student demand in these disciplines.
Therefore, the college, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, is seeking a new academic facility in Lowell with dedicated lab space to support an array of STEM programs that service the growing workforce needs of the region.
Middlesex Community College’s Allied Health programs: Nursing, Dental Hygiene, Medical Assisting, and Dental Technology, would all benefit from improved science labs and students would be better prepared for the growing sector. In the Greater Lowell area, healthcare is projected to grow by more than 11 percent by 2024 and employ more than 20,000 people.
Today there are nearly 1,200 students enrolled in Middlesex Community College’s STEM programs. It is anticipated a new facility with improved and modernized science labs would dramatically boost those numbers by nearly 2,000 additional credit hours per semester, which would be equal to approximately $500K in additional revenue per semester.
The goal of the proposed STEM building is to create teaching environments that reflect the highest industry standards and expand Middlesex Community College’s capacity to prepare students for the high-demand regional workforce needs in STEM-based industries, through modernized science spaces including state of the art biology, chemistry, physics, and cybersecurity labs.
A new STEM facility would also address American Disability Act and accessibility requirements for students who may experience physical or other barriers, as well as enhance fundamental parts of the teaching and learning experience for all learning styles where students can actively engage with curricula in state of the art classrooms and labs.
“Middlesex Community College already plays a critical role in providing educational opportunities for a diverse population that includes many who are foreign born,” Kennedy said. “A new STEM facility in Lowell would expand opportunities to pursue this increasingly in-demand career path, unlocking access to STEM as a field of study and the economic opportunity that comes with it to a substantial and distinct cross section of students whose needs are best met by the flexibility of a two-year program.”
“Education is a true equalizer, the difference that can create lasting intergenerational mobility; the difference that can elevate the son or daughter of a refugee who comes to a Gateway City like Lowell with nothing but the clothes on his or her back to grow up to be a celebrated chemist or the CEO of a Biotech company,” he added. “Education drafts the blueprint of the American Dream – a blueprint that with each enhancement and revision raises the standard of this democracy’s citizenship.”
The amendment was passed by the Senate, securing the funding in the Senate’s fiscal 2020 budget.
“With his proposed funding of an exploration study for a new science, technology, engineering and math building for Middlesex Community College, Sen. Kennedy has laid the groundwork for 21st century learning opportunities for thousands of students who will be exploring STEM education on our campuses for decades to come,” said MCC President James Mabry. “This proposed study will allow our college to make its first significant expansion in the STEM programs since we first moved into learning spaces in Lowell back in the 1990s.”
“Our campus goals, which are supported by the Senator’s efforts to spotlight our STEM programs, will allow us to create teaching environments that reflect the highest industry standards, remediate accessibility issues, and expand our capacity to prepare students for the high-demand workforce needs in regional STEM industries,” Mabry said. “I extend heartfelt thanks to Senator Kennedy on behalf of our Board of Trustees, as well as our outstanding faculty and staff and inspirational students.”
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