By Nina Otebele / For The Herald
This was not the senior year I imagined.
The pandemic took away in-person learning, time with my friends and all the rite-of-passage activities I have looked forward to for years. Planning for college also looked a lot different. Instead of visiting campuses and getting to meet other students and teachers, my friends and I had to research and make plans for college from our laptops. We missed the many small day-to-day encounters with teachers and counselors that provide critical guidance and encouragement.
My plans for the future are what have kept me going every day. I continue to work toward my goals through classwork and participation in virtual school clubs such as robotics. One thing I know: My future is in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
I first became interested in STEM in eighth grade, when I attended a STEM conference for girls. I remember watching a small robot circle my feet while a convention staff member controlled it by hovering her hands over a box. Something clicked for me. I wanted to learn more about this fascinating technology and create something just as impressive.
Following that year, I transferred to a STEM magnet program at Mountlake Terrace High School. The rest is history. Next year, I plan to study aerospace engineering and propulsion systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.
I am among the 46 graduating high school seniors in Washington state and more than 600 nationwide participating in national STEM Signing Day, presented by Boeing. The event celebrates seniors like me who choose to pursue STEM education at technical programs, two- and four- year colleges and universities. Like signing days for athletes, we each sign a letter of intent to pursue our STEM goals. After a year full of uncertainties, it means a lot to be honored for my accomplishments and take a moment to celebrate all that the future holds, including an amazing amount of opportunity in STEM.
More and more jobs in Washington require a post-high school credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate. Many job openings — in fields such as health care and computer science — specifically require a STEM credential. In the Snohomish region alone, 50 precent of family-wage jobs require a credential and STEM literacy, according to Washington STEM. I am confident that my preparation in STEM and the degree I aspire to will open the door to innovative and rewarding jobs, right here in my home state. In fact, nearly 80,000 STEM job openings are projected in Washington state in 2030.
The pandemic — and the creation and global rollout of a vaccine in only a year — made clear how critical innovation and science are in our daily lives and to our future. The STEM students of today will be tomorrow’s scientists working to discover cures for illnesses, nurses caring for sick people, engineers building tools and products that people use every day, software developers creating apps that meet consumer needs, and so much more. I am excited to be part of that.
To my high school classmates interested in STEM, or those middle and elementary students looking to the future, I urge you to stay focused on your dreams. Your own signing day will be here before you know it. The future is bright. Imagine what we’ll all do — together — to make it even brighter.
Nina Otebele is a senior at Mountlake Terrace High School and a 2021 STEM Signing Day honoree.