Education

Hanford contractor donates $127,000 to STEM initiatives

Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solutions announced a donation of $127,000 to various STEM initiatives, such as this competition organized by the Mid-Columbia STEM Education Collaboratory at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland.
Hanford contractor Washington River Protection Solutions announced a donation of $127,000 to various STEM initiatives, such as this competition organized by the Mid-Columbia STEM Education Collaboratory at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland. Tri-City Herald

Cregan Antonson had never heard of electrical engineering until a field trip to the Reach center in Richland last year. Now he wants to make a career of it.

The center had an interactive exhibit on energy that included cranes, inspiring Cregan, now 12, to learn more about the field. Except for another possible career in NASA, the Highlands Middle School student has pretty good reasons to choose engineering.

“I love science and I like building things, but also the paycheck,” Cregan told the Herald.

Educators and advocates of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education are hoping to inspire more students like Cregan.

Washington River Protection Solutions, a Hanford contractor, announced a donation of $127,000 to STEM initiatives during a Thursday event at Highlands. The money will benefit the Reach center, as well as mentoring programs for middle school students, college scholarships and instructional equipment.

$127,000 WRPS donation to various STEM initiatives

Officials said the contribution is critical, not just because it can introduce students to STEM-related careers, but it gives them a pathway throughout their education that supports that goal.

“It doesn’t help to have a middle school program if (students) have no where to go in high school,” said Lee Lambert, STEM network director of Washington STEM, a statewide organization committed to promoting STEM education.

The money from the WRPS donation is being divied up three ways.

▪ $50,000 to the STEM Education Network to launch new programs, including the mentoring program “STEM Like Me!” at area middle schools, and for STEM-related activities at the Reach center and the Boys & Girls Clubs youth center in Pasco.

▪ $50,000 to Washington State University Tri-Cities for scholarships in STEM fields and faculty support.

▪ $27,000 to Columbia Basin College to buy equipment for its nuclear technology program and for scholarships.

James Taylor, a senior executive with AECOM, the majority owner of WRPS, told the Herald that the company makes contributions to education in all the communities it serves, noting that it helps people and the company.

“We need to invest in our students because we need those resources to complete our projects,” he said, noting the ever-growing gap between available jobs in STEM fields and the number of candidates qualified to fill them.

We need to invest in our students because we need those resources to complete our projects.

James Taylor, AECOM

While interest in furthering STEM education isn’t new, Lambert said WRPS’ donation goes farther by aligning resources, making sure that students always have something to support their interest.

Getting kids interested also is still important.

Research shows that if children aren’t introduced to the possibility of a STEM career before they finish eighth-grade, they are less likely to consider such a job in the future, said Deb Bowen, executive director of the Washington State STEM Education Foundation.

Mentoring programs such as “STEM Like Me!” introduce kids to working professionals who do hands-on projects with them, demonstrating what they do for a living and connecting it with what students are learning in school. That program was tested at the school earlier this year and will be fully launched in December.

And having engaging teachers also is critical.

The key to getting kids excited about science, is to be passionate about it yourself.

Lori McCord, Highlands Middle School principal

Seventh-grader Lizbet Escalera, 12, said she wants to be a lawyer or prosecutor, but science teacher Andrew Cooper also has inspired a new interest in science if she loses her interest in the law.

“The key to getting kids excited about science, is to be passionate about it yourself,” said Highlands Principal Lori McCord.

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