Brandon Campus News
Strengthening STEM through Coalition Building

Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE), the National Science Foundation Center of Excellence, at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon, leads the way in positioning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as a nexus for launching high-tech, high-skilled careers. The Center provides exemplary industry partnerships, workforce opportunity, and educational synergy throughout Florida. Most recently, FLATE served as a mentor to Florida Science Education Initiative (FSEI)—a budding, STEM-based initiative right here at Hillsborough Community College.

FSEI was created as an independent student project to fulfill the community service learning requirement of the honors leadership program at HCC. The group, comprised of five students at the Dale Mabry campus, is committed to promoting STEM education through community outreach projects. Computer engineering major Ryan Stevens teamed up with architectural/civil engineering major Jason Barker to create FSEI with the goal of generating more widespread student interest, excitement and engagement in STEM “Our mission is to affect change by targeting younger people, giving them the information that’ll enable them to welcome STEM as an everyday part of their lives,” Barker said. The group initially plans to reach out to students only in Hillsborough County, but hopes to expand its outreach to other counties/regions in the state.

As a first step in the process, the FSEI students interviewed professionals already engaged in STEM education/training. FLATE was the perfect place to start. Students toured FLATE’s engineering technology lab and glimpsed at another student-based project: the solar car.

As the group representative, Barker interviewed Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE; Dr. Richard Gilbert, professor of chemical engineering at the University of South Florida and co-PI of FLATE; and Dr. Alessandro Anzalone, professor and program director for the engineering technology program at HCC-Brandon. Talking with the FLATE team gave the students insight into what they should be focusing on for the future. Dr. Gilbert, for example, helped students narrow their message to focus on careers.

“That’s where the money lies, and that’s the hook” said Barker. “Talking to Dr. Gilbert also gave us a broader vision of STEM and where it can take us to in the future.”

In addition to the interviews, FSEI members got an insider’s look at the two-year AS degree in engineering technology currently offered at HCC-Brandon and 10 colleges across Florida. Stevens said Dr. Anzalone pointed to the program as an effective mechanism in getting students with an interest in designing—or the applied aspects of engineerin—into engineering. Outside its engagement with FLATE, FSEI is also working with a science teacher at Sickles High School to do a student presentation about STEM based educational/career pathways. In all of this, the takeaway has been coalition-building.

“To build interest in STEM starts from the base; to make a greater/broader impact requires collective effort,” said Barker.

For information on FSEI contact Jason Barker at and Ryan Stevens at For information on FLATE’s engineering technology degree contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or visit and

Article written by: Brandon Campus Staff