NYS Seal
Legislative Report from the
Commission on Skills Development and Career Education
Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Joan K. Christensen, Chair
Assemblywoman Joan K. Christensen

Joan K. Christensen

Legislative Commission
on Skills Development
and Career Education

Agency Building 4, 12th Floor
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12248

Dear Friend:

With the 2008 legislative session now concluded, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you my plans to work with key stakeholders in the workforce, business, and education communities to enhance Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities for our current and future workforce.

As I talked with members from the business, academic, and workforce community about the workforce challenges confronting our economy, many expressed their grave concerns about the country’s and the State’s continued ability to produce the next generation of problem-solvers, innovators and inventors. Citing a number of national reports which indicate a steady decline in the number of U. S. citizens who are training to become mathematicians, scientists and engineers, many STEM advocates expressed the need for new strategies that will engage students in the excitement of modern science-based jobs.

For decades U.S. technological production and innovation has flourished largely because of the nation’s ability to recruit talented American students into the science and engineering disciplines, and when domestic talent was unavailable, to import the best scientists and engineers from around the world. However, in today’s knowledge-based economy where STEM fields have become a vital part of our economy, having a technologically literate and skilled workforce is no longer an option – it is a necessity. Today New York no longer is competing against other states but also against countries with rapidly expanding economies like China and India. Consequently, New York’s ability to build a workforce that is technologically literate, agile, and responsive to the challenges and the demands of a global economy is crucial for promoting our economic growth. It is, therefore, imperative that our STEM programs be an integral part of our educational and workforce development system.

I believe that to effectuate significant enrollment increases in the STEM fields requires long-term financial commitments from respective school districts as well as State and local governments. This effort will require a strong investment in infrastructure improvements at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Additionally, investments in recruitment, retention and training of quality math and science teachers who support students through the educational pipeline will also be needed.

As we all struggle through these difficult economic times we are confronted with difficult choices. We must not, however, lose sight of our goals nor reactively yield to economic pressures. Resources used to improve STEM training and education must be seen as a wise investment that will yield a long-term payoff.

As always, if you have any concerns or questions please feel free to contact my district office at (315) 449-9536 or the Legislative Commission on Skills Development and Career Education at (518) 455-4865.

Joan K. Christensen
Chair, Commission on Skills,
Development & Career Education

Assemblywoman Christensen Tours the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Facility at SUNY Albany

photo Assemblywoman touring the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at SUNY Albany

In early June, Assemblywoman Joan K. Christensen toured the State University of New York at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) nanotech facility to explore academic and business partnership opportunities for Central New York. CNSE-SUNY is the first college in the world dedicated to research, development, education, and deployment of an emerging field of science, commonly referred to as nanotechnology – the science of manipulating matter far smaller than the width of a human hair to create new and unique materials and products. The $4.2 billion nanotech complex at CNSE represents over 250 global partners and serves as a ground zero for cutting-edge research in next-generation nanotechnologies, as well as pioneering education and training for the high-tech workers of tomorrow.

During the tour, Assemblywoman Christensen and CNSE officials spoke about nanotechnology’s enormous potential to change our society. CNSE officials noted how current nanotechnology research and development is anticipated to lead to:

  • The development of new medical tools such as biosensors that can more effectively detect diseases;

  • The creation of tiny nano-machines that could be injected into the human body to fight diseases such as cancer;

  • The development of bio nano-materials that could be used for bone replacement and implants so that patients face a reduced risk of infection;

  • Creation of stronger, lighter materials; and

  • More effective pollution reduction and prevention as a result of nano-products that use less energy and materials.

photo Assemblywoman Christensen and Program Development Group staff tour the nanotechnology research and chip manufacturing clean room at CNSE

After the tour, Assemblywoman Christensen met with CNSE officials to discuss how the economic benefits of nanotechnology research and development can be further leveraged to benefit Upstate communities. CNSE officials expressed their willingness to work collaboratively with the Assemblywoman and noted how CNSE had already helped to create and retain jobs at leading companies like IBM and Applied Materials. CNSE indicated that a number of the jobs created in nanotechnology do not require a four year degree but do, however, provide individuals with a good salary. In 2001, according to CNSE officials, the average salary in the nanotechnology industry was $50,000 and by 2006, it had reached $137,000. Moreover, jobs requiring advanced degrees such as researchers and advanced technician positions can earn as much as $237,000.

With respect to training opportunities, CNSE officials noted how under their pioneering science and engineering apprenticeship training program, they are able to closely work with a number of organizations to train and retrain trade workers in nanotechnology clean room construction. Working in partnership with M&W Zander, CNSE has created a Center for Construction Trades Training. The $3.5 million office and clean construction training center is located at the Watervliet Arsenal. The Center trains up to 120 trade union members each year.

photo CNSE-SUNY’s $4.2 billion, 450,000 square-foot nano-tech complex, which is currently being expanded to 800,000 square feet.

Assemblywoman Christensen noted that with Upstate’s vast academic and business resources the Upstate community was well positioned to benefit from the spin-off research at CNSE. In an effort to help bring-out these critical partnerships, Assemblywoman Christensen pledged to work with Dr. Alain Kaloyeros, the Chief Executive Officer of CNSE, to identify key academic, business, and training opportunities for the Upstate region.

After the meeting, Assemblywoman Christensen thanked CNSE officials for their hospitality and acknowledged the pivotal role that CNSE is playing in revitalizing our economy and training our workforce.

Assemblywoman Christensen Assembled a Working Group to Explore Innovative Methods to Engage Students in Science, Math, Technology and Engineering

photo Assemblywoman Christensen with Onondaga school administrators and community leaders at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering facility at SUNY Albany.

On July 8th, Assemblywoman Christensen brought a group of school administrators and community leaders from Onondaga county to meet with officials from the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE). At the behest of Assemblywoman Christensen, a “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” (STEM) working group was established to find innovative ways to engage more students and enhance student involvement in math and science education. Moreover, the working group sought novel ways to leverage the unique assets of CNSE for the betterment of their respective communities.

Key members of the working group that met with CNSE officials were Dr. Donna DeSiato, Superintendent of the East Syracuse-Minoa School District, Dr. Jerome Melvin, Superintendent of North Syracuse Central Schools, Joseph Rotella, Superintendent of the Onondaga Central School District, Joanne Flood, Program Coordinator of OCM-BOCES Employment and Training, and Mary Ellen Montani, a secondary school technology assistant.

Opening the meeting, Assemblywoman Christensen encouraged the group to collaboratively work together to develop novel programs that would inspire students to enhance their math and science education. The Assemblywoman also cautiously noted to the group that if we are to continue competing as a region, a State, or even a nation, we can’t fall further behind the educational standards and achievement of countries that are competing with us for new technology and jobs.

During the meeting, the working group discussed some of the challenges that lay ahead and discussed potential strategies for moving forward. The following key points were raised:

  • In these difficult economic times it is imperative that we make the necessary investments that will build the skills of our labor force, particularly in the STEM fields.

  • While there has been general agreement that the science and technology career fields are of vital importance to the State’s economic health and prosperity, there is less recognition of the corollary that continued production of a workforce with skills in science and engineering requires sustained support.

  • To successfully prepare students for STEM careers, State and local governments must continue professional development for teachers and guidance personnel.

  • Though the number of jobs requiring science and engineering training continues to increase, fewer students are seeking to attain degrees in STEM fields. To address this problem the working group members suggested:

  • School career exploration should begin at earlier stages so that children are exposed to and are aware of the many career opportunities before them;

  • More hands-on learning experiences should be made available to students, in order to better engage them and to connect textbook lessons with real world applications;

  • Better outreach tools and strategies about possible STEM career pathways must be developed so that parents and students can make informed decisions;

  • Assistance must be provided to overburdened school guidance counselors so that they can better mentor students about possible career paths; and

  • To pique students interest about the modern wonders of nanotechnology, schools should try to integrate nano-science into traditional curriculums.

photo Assemblywoman Christensen and Onondaga working group members touring CNSE’s nanotechnology facility.

As the discussions turned towards the topic of model STEM education program, CNSE officials briefed the working group about their science and engineering educational programs which are training the next generation of workers in nanotechnology. Under the “Nano-High” Program, local area students are provided an unprecedented opportunity to study the emerging field of nanotechnology. Students receive fellowships that help equip them with the skill sets necessary to pursue careers in the nanotechnology field. Working in collaboration with local school administrators, CNSE developed research opportunities for students, as well as established criteria through which participating students could receive academic credit. Through this innovative partnership Albany High School was able to develop nanotech courses that are now part of the school’s curriculum.

CNSE officials further briefed the Assemblywoman and the working group about their partnerships with community colleges. CNSE pointed out how as a result of these partnerships, they were able to develop a new associate’s degree in nanotechnology that can transition into four year college and university programs. Currently, CNSE has partnered with Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York to develop the Hudson Valley Community College Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology Program (SMT). The SMT program is one of eighteen associate’s degree and certificate programs offered by the school.


The Legislative Commission on Skills Development and Career Education is interested in knowing more about businesses and industries that produce or utilize new emerging technologies. As the Assemblywoman travels around the State visiting various businesses, it has become more evident that there is much more going on in the field than what’s being communicated by the various media. So, tell us about yourself by contacting the Commission at:

Brenda Carter, Program Manager
Empire State Plaza
Agency 4, 12th Floor
Albany, New York 12248
518-455-4865 or 518-455-4175 (Fax)
E-mail: carterb@assembly.state.ny.us

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