FSU STARS: Inspiring the next generation

Florida State University STARS Alliancestudents are engaging the future generation by partnering with Florida’s chapter of the Technology Student Association (TSA), an organization of high school and middle school students interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The mission of the STARS (Students & Technology in Academia, Research & Service) Alliance is to increase the participation of women, under-represented minorities and persons with disabilities in IT and computing disciplines.

TSA’s mission is to foster personal growth, leadership and opportunities in technology, innovation, design and engineering.

Nationally, TSA’s membership includes more than 190,000 middle and high school students with over 2,000 chapters in 49 states. One hundred percent of TSA members are likely to graduate high school and 75 percent are expected to attend college.

The Florida TSA chapter is the nation’s second largest with over 28,000 students (up from 18,000 four years ago) and is growing fast. The number of chapters in Florida has grown to 90 from 70 in the last four years.

While the STARS Alliance is a national organization, Florida State is the only STARS chapter in the state that has formed a partnership with Florida TSA for STEM outreach. In that role, FSU STARS, housed in the College of Communication & Information, speak to TSA groups across Florida and help administer TSA’s annual State Leadership Conference, where they teach workshops on game design, mobile apps, communication, public speaking, leadership and college preparation. FSU STARS also attends and judges competitions at the Annual State Competition.

“FSU STARS has always placed a big focus on outreach,” Allison Loehr, FSU STARS student liaison for TSA, said. “We do a lot of work with middle and high schools to educate these kids on the growing importance of technology. A lot of them are really smart and they know that technology is important, but what they don’t know is how they can make a career out of it and that’s where STARS comes in. We have traveled all over the state to speak with schools about technology, communication and leadership.”

FSU STARS plays an integral role at Florida TSA’s annual leadership conference, which draws hundreds of students, parents and educators throughout the state.

“Getting to work with TSA has been one of the most exciting things I have gotten to do as a member of STARS,” Loehr said. “I went to their state conference in 2012 and got to see all of these projects that they were working on ranging from things like engineering, robotics, video production, graphic design and debate. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed with the level of skill these middle and high schoolers were exhibiting.”

While the Florida TSA conference showcases FSU STARS’ involvement on a larger scale, it is perhaps the individualized attention the elder students are giving the younger students that makes the biggest impression for both groups.

“I like that we sit down with them in small groups because it gives us the chance to talk to them in a less scary format,” Loehr said. “We can stand up there and give a presentation all day long but to really engage them we make it a comfortable place for them to ask us questions or talk to us about what they really want. This is definitely something I wish I had in middle or high school because it would have helped me in making my choice in majors.”

The partnership has been beneficial for the university. The outreach helps to attract some of the best students from around the state. Of 16 current FSU STARS members, four are former TSA members.

“The link with TSA is very important to our outreach efforts in the state and our goal to recruit more STEM students,” Associate Dean Ebe Randeree said. “These students are very talented and they will drive Florida’s economy as they graduate and launch businesses and create jobs. It is our job to mentor them and to keep them here in Florida, in Florida universities, and launching Florida businesses.”

Information technology is one of the fastest growing sectors of the nation’s economy according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which expects the industry will add nearly 1.4 million job openings by 2020. The U.S. Department of Education encourages TSA as an activity to enhance STEM education, and the need for these skills has bolstered growth of the organization.

Find a list of the2013 Fall STARS here.