Tours for local educators stress STEM studies to combat brain drain

OLEAN — In a mass professional development day, more than 70 educators from schools and institutions across Cattaraugus and Allegany counties toured eight Olean-area industries Thursday.

The interactions and presentations — facilitated through Dream It. Do It. (DIDI-WNY) and Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES — exposed teachers, guidance counselors and administrators to a wealth of job opportunities soon to become available for their students. To get there, organizers said, kids need to acquire skills in science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.).

But the participants weren’t all S.T.E.M. educators, said DIDI-WNY project coordinator Evelyn Sabina. She named a number of art, history, English and business teachers, as well as a school librarian.

“It’s so important all of the teachers see this,” Mrs. Sabina told the Times Herald. “No matter what they’re teaching, they know the students. A lot of our activities that we do — we have our presentations, tours and fairs — but the most effective way of getting the word out there is through the teachers.”

Participants included personnel from Allegany-Limestone, Austin (Pa.), Bolivar-Richburg, C-A BOCES, Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Ellicottville, Elm Street Academy in Cuba, Fillmore, Franklinville, Friendship, Genesee Valley, Olean City School District, Pioneer in Yorkshire, Portville, Port Allegany (Pa.), Randolph, Salamanca, Seneca Highlands Career and Technical Center, Wellsville, West Valley and Whitesville.

They toured Dresser-Rand, Napoleon Engineering, Eaton Power Systems, Scott Rotary Seals, Mazza Mechanical Services, SolEpoxy, Pierce Steel and Keystone Tool and Die.

“From my perspective, S.T.E.M. is an important thing to be thinking about with students,” said event co-organizer Tim Clarke, program manager for professional development at C-A BOCES. “There are lots of jobs in the field, but we don’t always have students going in that direction. Just knowing there are those options nearby can be kind of empowering for teachers and for students.”

In addition to watching manufacturing professionals on the job, the tourists heard presentations from local industry leaders like John Stahley, general manager of Olean’s Dresser-Rand facility; and Chris Napoleon, president of Napoleon Engineering.

The conversations mapped routes to battling the “brain drain,” a trend that has drawn young people away from Western New York for opportunities elsewhere. Leaders detailed the future of area industry, which projects to lose up to one-third of its workforce in the next five to 10 years due to baby boomer retirements. Scott Rotary Seals, for instance, is already seeking a new engineer, anticipating a job vacancy two to three years from now, Mrs. Sabina noted.

Organizers also emphasized teaching soft skills.

“(Mazza Mechanical Services President) Dan DeRose had made a comment that it is the person they were looking for,” Mrs. Sabina said. “They’re looking for someone who is on time, eager to work, eager to learn and work with other people. They can train them at anything, but they need the person.”

The teachers walked away from the tours with more knowledge they’ll, in turn, relay to their students, Mr. Clarke said.

“For a lot of them it was the awareness that these companies exist and they’re as globally connected as they are,” he said. “A lot of times people think of them as local businesses and they don’t realize the importance or the reach that some of them have, not just in our country, but all over the world.”

Dream It. Do It., which organizes similar tours for area students throughout the year, is now aiming to get parents involved, Mrs. Sabina added.

(Contact reporter Kelsey M. Boudin at Follow him on Twitter, @KelseyMBoudin)