Yakima County Development Association - STEM: An Important Education Initiative for Our Valley

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 

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STEM:  An Important Education Initiative for Our Valley

STEM: An Important Education Initiative for Our Valley

November 18, 2011

To be economically competitive in the global economy our region must raise educational attainment.  Our percentage of high school and college graduates is relatively low compared to other areas.  In an era where company and community success depend more on brains than brawn this is a serious issue facing the Yakima Valley.

We need to dramatically improve student achievement so that more of our kids succeed and our local companies find the talent they need to support their success.  Part of our challenge and opportunity revolves around STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math).  STEM is an important national intiative that underscores the need to increase student interest and success in these fields.  This initiative also underscores the importance of teaching these subjects in an interdisciplinary manner.  By mixing student work in math and engineering or technology and science, classrooms best represent how these disciplines actually work in real world settings.  Integrated science, technology, engineering and math curricula must be a central part of improving local schools.

Local school districts are dabbling with STEM education.  Districts like East Valley and Toppenish have used special grants to boost student exposure to STEM most typically integrating these dollars with their career and technical school programs.  This is a good start but these resources are far too limited to suggest they will help our Valley integrate and push STEM education to the point where it has a larger impact.  Our challenge is to somehow ramp up STEM when funding for local schools is on the decline.

We are not alone facing these challenges.  Schools around the state and country recognize the importance of STEM but struggle to integrate and make these disciplines part of  a mainstream curricula.  For me, implementing and prioritizing STEM education requires a combination of funding and education reform.  We must find the funds to prioritize STEM education for all students not just those in certain classes or discliplines.   At the same time though there will never be enough grant funding to make STEM a part of every student's education.  We need to also reprogram and reform current school curricula to free up financial resources that can support STEM implementation.

Do not get me wrong - just because I am advocating STEM does not mean that english, art and other disciplines are not important.  All courses of study are important and they are often the prerequisite for success in STEM fields.  It is clear though that STEM is a fundamentally important focus for our schools:


    • Workers with associate's degrees in STEM fields out-earn 63 percent of people who have bachelor's degrees in other fields;

 


    • Almost half of workers with bachelor's degrees in STEM fields out-earn workers with Ph.D.'s in other fields; and

 


    • Jobs in STEM fields will continue to grow and outpace job availability in other diciplines.



To embrace STEM and make it work for students, schools and local employers we need to be sensitive to a few issues.  We need to make sure STEM is not the province of just our best and brightest students or those kids pursuing the tech school option.  How we get our disadvantaged students into these courses is a key to the region's economic future.  We must also work to ensure that our girls in particular gain exposure to STEM.  Gender inequity in STEM fields is well documented and we need to get our younger ladies involved and interested in these career paths.  And finally, we need to take a view that STEM skills become basic skills in the labor market much like a liberal arts education was seen as a basic requirement for high-paying jobs in past years.

In our Valley, our Education Service District (ESD 105), is poised to implement a planning project that creates a roadmap for increasing STEM education in Central Washington.  Working in concert with Washington STEM, ESD 105 will draw business, education, and citizens together for important conversations about STEM and how we build these programs within the Region.  This planning process will unfold next year and give our community an excellent opportunity to learn more about STEM and map out its incorporation into our local schools.

Stay tuned for more local discussions about STEM in the Yakima Valley.  This is an important initiative and we need your awareness and input as ESD 105 shapes how our region embraces and implements STEM at local schools.  To learn more about ESD 105's STEM planning effort or to get involved contact Terrie Geaudreau at Terrie.Geaudreau@esd105.org or (509) 454-3124.

 


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"We appreciated New Vision's assistance as we launched Liberty Bottles. The development association helped us publicize our new company, find qualified employees and ensure that we got off to a good start in Union Gap." - Tim Andis, Liberty Bottleworks