Boeing exec urges more science, math emphasis in schools

EVERETT — The need to increase the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and math is near and dear to the Boeing Co.

“This is more than a state and local issue, it’s a national issue,” Scott Fancher, vice president of airplane development for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told about 500 people on Thursday.

Fancher spoke at a fundraising event downtown for the Everett Public Schools Foundation. Boeing employee Craig Sunderland is the president of the foundation’s executive board.

Through 2018, there will be 2.4 million jobs created in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in this country, Fancher said. But as many as 75 percent of high school students today don’t complete basic algebra.

Washington has the highest concentration of jobs in STEM fields in the nation, he said. In coming years, however, as many as 30,000 of those jobs will go unfilled because the state isn’t graduating enough students from colleges to keep up. That could lead to a loss of economic activity, Fancher said.

Gary Cohn, superintendent of the Everett Public Schools, also supports the push for STEM achievement.

Everett’s economy no longer runs on paper and pulp, Cohn said. Last year’s closing of the town’s last mill, owned by Kimberly-Clark, demonstrates the need to change focus in education.

State lawmakers and aerospace interest groups have stepped up training and STEM education activity in recent years. For example, officials from the Arlington School District and the state Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee were to hold an open house Friday morning at the high school to discuss an initiative to increase aerospace training in the Arlington area. The committee teaches a machining apprenticeship course at Arlington High School and will start a new program there this summer.

“With the increase in Arlington’s aerospace and advance manufacturing sector, it is imperative that we address the issues of a qualified work force,” Barb Tolbert, mayor of Arlington, said in a written statement.

Boeing’s need for qualified engineers and machinists is at the heart of the company’s STEM push. The company is engaged in efforts with students and schools around the country, Fancher said. Boeing also lobbies for STEM education.

As the country’s top exporter, employing nearly 174,000 people worldwide, “we have a large voice from a policy standpoint,” Fancher said.

Boeing is focused on getting kids excited about math and technology at an early age. For Fancher, a childhood project that involved researching clean water spurred his interest in engineering. Fancher gained confidence in his own abilities once technology was “de-mystified” for him.

The aerospace company supports and participates in a variety of STEM-related programs, such as FIRST Robotics, a space camp for teachers and mentoring in schools.

“STEM is about making an investment in the future,” Fancher said. “We at Boeing consider this to be a major priority.”

Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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