The High Tech Brain Gain And STEM


Programs and Academic Goals

And it’s not just the county that’s supporting this push for academic excellence. Private enterprises are also playing a key role. Acorda Therapeutics is one such company. “We just launched a program called the Acorda Scientific Excellence Award. It’s for high school students who are engaged in highly significant scientific, technological, engineering and math research. The goal is to engage and support these young scientists to help them further their academic goals,” says Maria Verastegui, creative director for Acorda.




STEM High Tech Hispanic Maria Verastegui, creative director for Acorda Therapeutics Maria Verastegui, creative director for Acorda Therapeutics


Verastegui herself is an example of just how well Westchester is doing when it comes to educating its young people. Born in Queens, New York, to Peruvian parents, her family moved to the county when she was six and her sister four. She studied math and science at Westchester Community College and then transferred to Yale. She eventually took a job at Acorda as a lab assistant and then, thanks to previous experience in communications, landed her current position.

Verastegui says that without her background in math and science, she wouldn’t be where she is today. “We really need to be able to understand science in order to create our communication vehicles for the physicians we deal with and then for the patient population,” she notes.

STEM Both Philanthropic and Practical

As in the case of Verastegui, the county recognizes the importance of having its educated students  return to the area. And because of the large Hispanic population in the area, it has established programs that appeal directly to them, including courses that focus on English as a second language, which is in part funded by the EOC’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA).

“ County Executive Astorino is fluent in Spanish, and he wants to make sure that this growing sector of residents is well served. So an emphasis he has is to make sure that Hispanics, including both parents and children, are able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available to them,” Mildenberger says.

Because Westchester County is so focused on positive STEM-related programs, many students who may have moved away to attend colleges and universities often return, either working for existing science and technology companies or establishing their own entrepreneurial startups. This helps people who, elsewhere in the country might be stuck in dead-end jobs, enjoy better opportunities in Westchester.

“What really drives our industry is human capital. So we need to have people with the right skills and the right technical training to support all of our operations. A good way to do that—and remain competitive with other areas that have established biotech clusters like Boston or San Francisco—is to foster homegrown talent. It’s much easier to build a talent base of people who have ties to the area than to import talent. So it makes sense for us to support these kinds of programs from both philanthropic and practical business reasons,” Verastegui says.

And so far, Westchester County’’s efforts, as well as those of local businesses, small and large, are paying off. In fact, 45 percent of the county’s residents over the age of 25 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 27 percent nationwide. While there may be brain drains occurring elsewhere in the country, just the opposite is happening here. You might call it a brain gain.


Other articles by Jim:

Costa Rica: An Investment Opportunity for Hispanic Business

Demographics and Tastes Can Be Key to Success