Dominique Fernandez’s life could have been very different.
Where the 20-year-old recently found salvation in the form of a desk-analyst position with the Lifespan health care system, she could have faced a future of, at best, minimum-wage jobs that wouldn’t have done much to break her out of the poverty-level – and sometimes sub-poverty – existence she struggled through as a child and teenager in a drug-filled environment.
“[When] I grew up, there was no heat, no food, no electricity. My life needed a change,” Fernandez said to an audience at Rhode Island College’s recent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) conference.
“I [went] from dealing with drugs [to] working for one of the largest companies [in the state],” she said.
Her journey turned with the Providence branch of Year Up, a national organization dedicated to helping urban youth turn their lives toward economic self-sufficiency through education and support.
The program is not a part of RIC’s RI STEM Center and neither was Fernandez. Rather, she’s a real-life example of the success those deep within STEM’s trenches hope to see as they and others try to agree on how best to protect the state’s economic future by developing a new kind of workforce.
“She hasn’t worked with us, but [she’s] typical of the kids we are seeing,” said Mary Sullivan, professor of mathematics and educational studies and director of the RI STEM Center. “We’re trying to intervene earlier.”
Sullivan brought Fernandez in to speak at the May 4 conference in order to prove a point – that collaboration between service organizations, educational institutions and secondary schools is vital to teach skills universally identified here as direly needed to fill available jobs and those that could be created by developing the so-called Knowledge District.
Opened in February 2009 with funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health – as well as other sources – the STEM Center was established to improve the quality of STEM education in the state under recommendations made by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel and PK-16 Advisory Committees several years before.