Meeting KC’s growing demand for STEM professionals

By Dr. Janice Barrow, associate dean for academic affairs and executive education
K-State Olathe

Greater Kansas City needs more highly educated and STEM-qualified workers in order for the region to stay competitive and meet current and future workforce demand, according to findings of a 2014 report by the Brookings Institute. Additional reports from the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and KC Rising reinforce those findings and note that similar-sized cities are outperforming our region in having a pipeline of STEM-educated talent.

According to Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, Kansas City-based employers and companies looking to expand to the region want employees with STEM knowledge and professional skills. These include business acumen, teamwork, leadership, project management, analytical skills and communication skills.

In response to industry demand, and through JCERT funding support, K-State Olathe introduced the Professional Science Master’s degree (PSM) in April 2016. The new degree provides in-depth training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while simultaneously developing professional skills and hands-on expertise that will help students advance into leadership roles.

In addition to customized classroom education, the PSM program includes a required capstone experience component. Students apply their program learnings to hands-on projects that solve real-world problems. During the capstone, each student has supervision from a faculty mentor who is an expert in the student’s field. Students also have the guidance of a supervisory committee and the option of being paired with a co-mentor from business, industry or government.

When K-State Olathe announced the PSM degree, the campus saw it immediately resonate with employers and bioscience organizations in Greater Kansas City. Many employers stated that the degree addressed their talent needs, and students began enrolling the program. There are currently 20 students pursuing the PSM.

K-State Olathe is excited about helping the region increase the number of talented and highly educated STEM professionals who will be the next generation of leaders in Greater Kansas City.