By Nichole Daughtree
PICKENS COUNTY — STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs available to students in the Pickens County school district show that there are viable career options for those children who are not interested in what some view as a more traditional, four-year university education.
Ray Farley, executive director of Alliance Pickens, recently organized a dinner event at the Career and Technology Center in Liberty to celebrate student achievement in the STEM program, but also to raise awareness about the exciting opportunities available in business and industry throughout Pickens County.
"The students coming out of Pickens County schools are in high demand. We see 19 year olds bringing home $50,000 their first year out of school," said Farley. "Excellent career opportunities are being generated by technical learning at this facility and at Tri-County Tech. Gone are the days when a student has to go to a four-year program."
Dr. Ronnie Booth, president of Tri-County Technical College and chair of Alliance Pickens, also attended and spoke at the STEM dinner event. He said that having a knowledgeable workforce is what makes Pickens County competitive.
“Most of us would like our kids to be close,” said Booth. “One way to make that happen is to make sure there are job opportunities. As president of Tri-County, the work we are doing with the School District of Pickens County is critical to making our workforce competitive.”
Mark Schnee, of J.R. Automation, said that manufacturing has a connotation that is associated with textile mills, and many people see manufacturing as bad. Today, however, this is not the case. “It is clean. It is nice. It is safe. If your child really doesn’t want to go to college, push them in the direction of a trade school,” said Schnee. “We need tool-makers and electricians. They make a better living than some of the engineers coming out of Clemson.”
While earning a four-year degree is a great ambition, Jeromy Arnett of United Tool and Mold said that there are a lot of kids with four-year degrees working at Applebees.
“We have one of the best and brightest facilities in the state of South Carolina and we would be doing a disservice to the School District of Pickens County, to your kids and to our community, if we don’t take
advantage of the wonderful facility and teachers we have,” said Arnett. “What these kids learn here is a technical application. Give them an opportunity to learn a skill that will provide for them. If they have one skill, they can put food on the table.”
SDPC STEM success story Curtis Todd also attended and spoke at Thursday’s event. Todd graduated from Daniel High School and is currently enrolled at Southern Wesleyan University. While at Daniel, he was the team captain for the first robotics team in Pickens County. His technical education inspired him to start a video game development company when he was only a sophomore in high school.
Todd, founder and owner of Diamond Bullet Studios, designed and developed a video game simulation that enables robotics students to practice strategies for robotics competitions. Todd’s game will be released by Xbox Live before the year is out.
What made a difference in Todd’s education was the support he received from local businesses and community leaders in Pickens County.
“They were there to support me, to show that they cared, and to let me know that what I was doing actually mattered,” he said.