Educators discuss how to make Mid-Columbia schools ‘national models’ of STEM education

Educators discuss how to make Mid-Columbia schools ‘national models’ of STEM education

By 2021, Washington state will have 740,000 new high-skilled and high-paying jobs. For state leaders in education, that means a fair amount of work and strategy to make sure those jobs can be filled by then.

Efforts to increase STEM education and more opportunities to explore career options during elementary, middle and high school have been ongoing in Washington state. Earlier this year, Washington state lawmakers passed a bill designed to expand career-connected learning opportunities for students.

On Thursday, the Southeastern Washington Future Workforce Summit was held at the Red Lion Hotel in Pasco, an opportunity for state educators to celebrate the accomplishments in STEM education thus far and to brainstorm for the future.

“STEM careers are the ones that seem to be the most in need,” said Matt Hammer, President of the board of directors of the Washington State STEM Education Foundation. “There is going to be a big shortage of STEM workforce in the coming years.”

Student and teacher representatives from local career-focused programs were able to show off their programs at the event, giving attendees a chance to see what kind of efforts are already underway. Break-out sessions were held throughout the day focusing on themes ranging from meeting workforce needs to supporting students with disabilities.

Last year, the STEM Foundation launched an initiative called Mid-Columbia STEM 2030. One of the goals of the initiative is to have 70 percent of local students earn a post-secondary credential by the age of 26.

“Another goal is to make sure that our schools – elementary to university – are known as national role models for innovative STEM learning and community engagement,” said Hammer.

Locally, there are already efforts being made to increase STEM education and career exploration. Delta High School, formed in 2008, is one of the first STEM high schools in the state. The Mid-Columbia region also boasts multiple STEM elementary schools. In Kennewick, the Tri-Tech Skills Center offers high school students the opportunities to get a taste of careers before college.

“I do rotations with Kadlec so I get to view how it is in the hospital and behind the ambulance,” said Juliet Garcia, a Pasco High senior enrolled in Tri-Tech’s firefighting program. “I feel like it’s helped me decide whether I want to go to college for this profession or not.”

In addition to the firefighting program, Tri-Tech’s offerings range from culinary to pre-nursing.

“We’re in the lab and we’re doing practical skills like checking blood pressure, pulse and respiration and taking vital signs,” said Ally Winslow, a Hanford High senior enrolled in Tri-Tech’s pre-nursing program. “Other days, we’re in the classroom learning medical terminology and logistics of health care.”

Students enrolled in Columbia Basin College’s manufacturing technology program can work toward many local career opportunities after gaining their certificate or degrees, ranging from Lamb Weston to jobs at the Hanford site.

“It’s the full package,” said Tanya Big Mountain, associate professor of the program. “From the beginning of manual machining…all the way up to controlling CNC machines.”

Hammer said future goals include furthering these efforts and continuing to get kids involved in internships and apprenticeship-type opportunities at younger ages.

“It’s really all about connecting the business community with the school districts to work closer together.”