Progress Edition

Washington State STEM Education Foundation: STEM education offers competitive advantage

STEM Like ME! volunteer, Mark Haag, Washington River Protections Solutions, demonstrates STEM skills at Chief Jo Middle School in Richland.
STEM Like ME! volunteer, Mark Haag, Washington River Protections Solutions, demonstrates STEM skills at Chief Jo Middle School in Richland.

The Mid-Columbia has much to gain from its growing reputation as a leader in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) literacy. Long before most communities were placing emphasis on STEM education, Tri-Cities leaders were hard at work designing our region’s award-winning STEM school, Delta High, which opened in 2009.

Delta High put the Mid-Columbia on the STEM map and led the way for numerous STEM elementary schools that followed. A new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) middle school is scheduled to open in the fall. The outstanding STEM offerings at Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities are the capstones of our local STEM education portfolio.

Washington State ranks No. 1 in the concentration of STEM-related jobs. Yet our state ranks low in the production of computer science, engineering and health degrees relative to job openings in those fields. Because of this, Washington, on a per capita basis, imports more STEM-educated workers than any other state in the nation.

Locally, we anticipate what has been dubbed “the silver tsunami:” too many skilled STEM workers leaving the workforce with not enough trained replacements developed locally to fill these high-paying careers. At Hanford alone, 60 percent of the workforce is eligible to retire within the next five years.

Since its establishment in 2008, the Washington State STEM Education Foundation has worked toward fostering a 100 percent home-grown STEM workforce. This is part of the vision of becoming a national model for passionate support for STEM education

We support a view that STEM literacy is a foundational skill that matters for all careers. STEM builds critical thinking abilities, creativity and collaboration skills. Gaining STEM proficiency provides the basis for these skills and builds the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market.

The foundation’s first project was to support the funding and launch of Delta High. In 2014, the foundation expanded its impact by forming the Mid-Columbia STEM Network, one of the now 10 STEM Networks across the state led by Washington STEM, a Seattle-based non-profit. Working in partnership with leaders from business, education, government and community-based organizations and volunteers across the state, we deliver STEM resources and opportunities to the Mid-Columbia through three key strategies.

Build a bridge to connect STEM resources to students, teachers and our community

We supported legislation to fund a $3 million STEM facilities remodel at River View High in the Finley School District. We also spearheaded a 300 percent increase in local applications for STEM scholarships, resulting in more than $1 million in aid to local students through the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship. In addition, nearly $100,000 in grant money has been awarded to support computer science, early math and classroom teachers who are creating innovative STEM programing.

Expand career-connected learning experiences

The foundation works with business partners to promote internships and STEM volunteerism to prepare students for the working world. We also developed a STEM volunteer program called STEM Like ME!, which was recently honored with a National Governors Association Policy Academy grant as one of 21 STEM learning labs across our state.

Advance the Mid-Columbia as national leader in STEM literacy

The foundation supports a variety of awareness events, including our STEM Celebration Dinner, Women in STEM Town Hall, OSPI Candidate Forum, Health and Safety EXPO and Legislative “Fly-In” to Olympia. In addition, we drive STEM support through English and Spanish ads, articles, media spots and presentations.

Talented young STEM professionals have cited our region’s proactive approach to STEM education as a key factor in their choice to relocate to the Tri-Cities. International business leaders have toured the region, Delta High and our higher-ed institutions and made the same claim. Our region’s dedication to ensuring all young people experience STEM’s power and possibilities is paying off. And we are just getting started!

To learn how you can become involved in supporting STEM education in the Mid-Columbia, go to washingtonSTEMeducation.org

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