STEM offers world of possibilities — and fun

Don’t tell your kids that it’s smart to study STEM. Don’t tell them that the highest starting salaries are in STEM fields. And please don’t tell them that 90 percent of unfilled jobs in our county next year will be in STEM and health care.

Science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — is all the buzz in education and industry, especially the businesses we are so fortunate to have in our region. Our economy depends on a workforce that is educated in STEM, but we have a gap. Washington state ranks No. 1 in STEM jobs but 49th out of 50 in preparing people with the skills to fill them.

But don’t tell your kids that. Just show them how much fun STEM can be.

Building things that work. Mastering Minecraft code. Finding the answer to “why?” STEM invites you to unwrap the world and tinker with the insides. It should be fun. Yet, 61 percent of middle schoolers would rather take out the garbage than do their math homework. Only 6 in 100 ninth graders will graduate from college with STEM degrees.

That’s why the Washington Alliance for Better Schools and Economic Alliance Snohomish County have partnered to bring together our schools, higher education, business and public and nonprofit sectors to form the Snohomish STEM Network.

Our mission is to increase STEM awareness and skills for all students, work in which WABS is long an acknowledged leader. With a grant from Washington STEM, we are working to give our kids opportunities and our businesses home-grown talent. To make our county the best place to work, live and learn.

Recently, our STEM Network partnered with the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship to train “champions” to encourage seniors from our local high schools to apply for the scholarship, which provides up to $22,500 toward a bachelor’s degree in any of 150 STEM and health care majors. Submitted applications rose from 55 to 300 this year, worth more than $6 million for local students.

Family-wage STEM jobs are not just for those with a four-year college degree.

Demri Lewis, 18, is a local STEM Star. As a child, she loved her grandfather’s machine shop.

“I work best with my hands,” Demri said. “I didn’t even want to go to college or think that I could.”

The Goodwill Youth Aerospace program changed her life. Today, Demri is earning a certificate in precision machining at the Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center (AMTEC) at Everett Community College. Although as a young woman she stills stands out: “I fit right in” Demri said. “If it interests you, then follow it.”

Other STEM Stars are as young as the second-graders in Marysville who are teaching computer coding skills to kindergarteners and as seasoned as Dr. Science, the Fluke retiree who delights kids with hands-on projects at the Imagine Children’s Museum. Their message? STEM is for everyone.

Now through May, organizations throughout the county are hosting a series of STEM events for all ages. “Spring into STEM” highlights just some of the many opportunities that are available locally, such as the Expanding Your Horizons Conference for middle school girls at Edmonds Community College, free activities at libraries, school STEM expos, and more. Check it out at SnohomishSTEM.org, a new website we hope will become your portal to the valuable resources we have in our county.

Join us! Share a resource or add an event to the SnohomishSTEM.org calendar. Volunteer. Let a student job shadow you at work. Send your company’s own STEM stars into our school classrooms. Or sponsor the STEM website or our work to build teacher skills and provide learning opportunities to students.

The Snohomish STEM Network depends on support from local businesses, schools, colleges and individuals to be successful. We all have a stake in our kids and our community.

Simply put, STEM works for students, works for business and works for our community. And it’s fun.

Emily Yim is executive director of the Washington Alliance for Better Schools. Patrick Pierce is president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Join the STEM network

For information on how to get involved, contact the Snohomish STEM Network, www.SnohomishSTEM.org, email DeborahS@SnohomishSTEM.org or call 425-218-1236

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