Sometimes, long-term talent development really is brain surgery. Well, not exactly brain surgery: neuroscience.
It takes a lot to impress a post-doctoral professional in neuroscience, the kind who works at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) in Jupiter.These are researchers with Ph.D.s from the top universities in the world.
Each summer, they work alongside about 10 local high school interns who join the lab to see how basic research is conducted, assist the researchers and complete their own projects, from start to formal presentation.
“One thing I hear a lot from researchers at MPFI is, ‘We’re seeing great talent through our high school internship program.’ I also hear every summer, ‘I can only imagine what my intern is going on to accomplish in their careers,’” says Ana Fiallos, the institute’s head of Education Outreach.
The goal of the program is to seed and cultivate talent long-term and to capitalize on native Floridians’ deep roots in their communities. Fiallos would know: a native Floridian, she returned to Florida to pursue her career after her graduate studies.
Florida offers a unique infrastructure for cultivating talent. Under the auspices of the state Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE) school districts offer instruction leading to industry recognized certifications that meet the needs of Florida businesses. From animation to robotics, high-tech to healthcare, the range of certifications is designed to offer high school students skills that prepare them for employment as soon as they graduate.
In 2015-2016, there were 1,807 high school CAPE academies and 251 registered middle schools CAPE academies, and 82,439 industry certifications earned. Standards and market relevance are considered by CareerSource Florida, in collaboration with the state’s local workforce development boards and the state Department of Education, during the annual certification review process.
“Florida Career and Professional Education academies connect students to industry-approved training and certifications that prepare them with skills and knowledge to be productive when they enter the workforce,” said CareerSource Florida Senior Vice President of Business and Workforce Development Andra Cornelius, CEcD. “With business leadership identifying the most relevant skills for training, participating students gain an advantage that will help them and the businesses they ultimately work for compete and prosper.”
Meanwhile, the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience is part of a Palm Beach County STEM council that includes colleges, high schools and local businesses. Many of the organizations in the council offer STEM college internships, including the Max Planck institute.
Sixteen-year-olds are a long way from the workforce, especially if – as many of the interns do – they pursue postgraduate work.
“One of the best ways to figure out what you want to be is to see what a career is like day to day,” says Fiallos. “What better way to do that than to spend six weeks with a dedicated mentor on a project.” The students are paid $10 an hour for their 40-hour workweeks.
The program also includes weekly seminars led by institute neuroscientists, geared to explaining the basics of how research is structured, how reports and abstracts are written, and how organizations like the Institute run. “Neuroscience demands a spectrum of skills – a little bit of coding, a little bit of engineering, and a lot of biology of the brain,” says Fiallos. “Cultivating talent isn’t a one-dimensional program. Once students start getting accepted, it creates its own momentum.”