Students' options sprout from STEM

Local schools' focus on math, science preparing students for jobs of future

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Projected U.S. STEM jobs through 2018

• 2.4 million job openings in STEM occupations.

• 1.1 million new STEM positions.

• 1.3 million replacement STEM positions.

Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, STEM, Oct. 2011.

STEM jobs in Washington

• Although Washington ranks fourth nationally in its number of high-tech companies, it ranks 46th in the number of STEM graduates from its universities.

• Of 39 counties in Washington, Clark County ranks fifth in technology-based employment, with 13,709 technology jobs.

• Despite Washington's nearly 10 percent unemployment rate, at least 12,000 job openings exist in STEM-related fields.

• Currently Washington is graduating students with the credentials to fill only 67 percent of the expected annual job openings in engineering, 56 percent in computer science and 65 percent in the medical professions.

Sources: Washington STEM Center 2010; U.S. Dept. of Commerce; U.S. Census Bureau Nonemployer Statistic, Washington State Employment Security Department

Projected STEM jobs in Washington in 2018

• STEM jobs will be 8 percent of all jobs.

• Projected STEM jobs will be 282,130, up from 227,040 in 2008.

• 50 percent of STEM jobs will be in computer occupations.

• 94 percent of STEM jobs will require postsecondary education and training.

• 21 percent of all master's degree jobs and 34 percent of all Ph.D. jobs will be in a STEM field.

Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, STEM, Oct. 2011.

Projected STEM jobs in Southwest Washington

• 2010: 5,442

• 2015: 16,849

• 2020: 18,074

Source: Scott Bailey, regional economist, Washington Employment Security Department.

Should public schools offer programs that point students toward specific careers?

  • Yes. Training needs to start young for students who someday will fill jobs in technology, engineering and health care. 58%
  • No. Children shouldn't have to commit to a career path until their high school days are over. Middle schoolers are much too young to make career choices. 12%
  • No. Public schools should just teach the basics and hold everyone to high standards. That's the best way to prepare tomorrow's workforce. 30%

204 total votes.

The current "in" word in education and employment circles is "STEM," short for science, technology, engineering and math. In reading the tea leaves, economists and employers are projecting increased job growth in STEM fields.

Are STEM jobs readily available? Yes, says Farhana Kabir, 44, who graduated from Washington State University Vancouver in June with a master's degree in computer science. Kabir had returned to school after taking a long hiatus to raise her family. During her junior year, she completed a summer internship at Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, Ore. Three months before her graduation, Intel offered her a job as a software engineer. Her starting pay is about $87,000 annually.

"If you are passionate about math, science, or technology, go for it," Kabir said. "Take advantage of your school's offerings in these subjects and relevant extracurricular activities to get exposure and a solid background."

Jobs in STEM fields are projected to continue to grow both in Southwest Washington and statewide, said Scott Bailey, regional economist with the Washington Employment Security Department. Schools and employers are investing millions of dollars to prepare students for a future workforce fluent in STEM subjects.

Educators at Clark County schools are ramping up their STEM offerings to prepare today's students for promising jobs tomorrow in these fields with higher-than-average entry-level pay. Their efforts include STEM training and programs for students at all grade levels, new STEM schools and innovative public-private partnerships.

STEM in Clark County

In Clark County, the largest districts, Vancouver Public Schools and Evergreen Public Schools, have the student base to offer more STEM programs and even STEM schools. Vancouver Public Schools offers the science, math and technology magnet at Skyview High School and this fall opened iTech Preparatory, a small STEM school with a middle school campus at the Parsley Center and a high school campus at WSU Vancouver.

In Evergreen Public Schools, students do real-world energy and environment projects at Heritage High School's SMART Energy program.

Battle Ground Public Schools offers some STEM subjects in its Center for Agriculture, Science and Environmental Education.

Camas High School offers a science, technology and mathematics magnet focused on student research. Smaller school districts in the county offer community-supported STEM programs. WSU Vancouver, Clark College and ESD 112 work together with districts to support various STEM programs.

Although most schools don't have the student numbers to create separate STEM programs, students can take Advanced Placement classes in STEM subjects to steer their high school experience toward a STEM career.

Madeline Bennett, 18, a 2012 graduate of Heritage High School, has considered a STEM career since middle school, when she took as many honors classes she was allowed. At Heritage, she filled her schedule with Advanced Placement classes, taking the highest levels of math and science classes offered.

In her senior year, Bennett founded a nonprofit organization, Owl Be Better with Music. Once a month, she brings musicians and crafts to patients at Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland.

Through her volunteer work at Shriners, she was introduced to doctors and job shadowed an orthopedic surgeon, who arranged for her to observe some surgeries.

"I'm fascinated with orthopedics," said Bennett, now a University of Washington freshman majoring in pre-medicine and considering a career as an orthopedic surgeon.

Next fall, Evergreen Public School students like Bennett interested in medicine and health careers can get hands-on training at its new Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, or HeLa High. The district's new health care and medical high school will fill a growing need for students interested in STEM careers.

The district received a $17.4 million federal stimulus program bond to build the school, which has a projected total cost of $24 million.

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center will be a community partner at HeLa High, which is being built near the medical center.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the health care industry provided 14.3 million jobs in 2007 and is projected to generate 3.2 million new jobs between 2008 and 2018.

Meeting employers

Internships are a key ingredient in providing hands-on STEM work experience to students in high school, college and beyond.

Aric Krause, a 2011 graduate of Vancouver Public Schools' SMT (Science, Math, Technology) magnet program at Skyview High School, has turned his passion for aviation into a full-time job at Boeing.

As a middle school student, Krause attended aviation camp at Pearson Air Museum, and in subsequent summers was a camp intern. In high school he took flying lessons and earned his sports pilots license.

For two years, Krause spent every Saturday building an experimental kit plane with other teens in a program called Airway Science for Kids in conjunction with the Experimental Aircraft Association in Hillsboro, Ore. This past summer, Krause piloted that plane to Oshkosh, Wis. for EAA Airventure, an international gathering of aviators.

He was a member of Skyview's StormBots FIRST Rotobics team, led by teacher Phil Hays, a former Hewlett-Packard engineer. Krause credits Skyview's SMT program, and its focus on engineering classes, as being instrumental to his career ambitions.

John Cook, a mentor for Skyview's robotics team and a Boeing engineer, encouraged Krause to apply for a summer internship at Boeing in Gresham, Ore. Beginning in his junior year, Krause worked for three summers as an intern, starting at $10.50 an hour. After completing three internships, Krause accepted a full-time job as a precision assembler working on cockpit gearboxes and earning $16.50 per hour.

Krause, 19, attends Clark College part time, working toward his associate's degree. He plans to transfer to a four-year university to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering, perhaps at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or another college that will allow him to pursue his aviation passion. Krause is accessing education assistance through IAM/Boeing Joint Programs, a program providing lifelong formal educational assistance.

Ten years from now, Krause projects he'll still be working for Boeing.

"I'd love to be doing engineering or test flying," Krause said. "I've been told the sky's the limit once you have your foot in the door."

Interns to employees

Krause's experience in being offered full-time employment following an internship is not that unusual. College interns do find themselves with solid job offers when the internship is completed. That's certainly true at Bonneville Power Administration, which employs about 500 engineers in Clark County. The federal power marketing agency offers both high school and college internship programs and retains 98 percent of those college interns as employees. Each year the agency hires about 15 college students who work as interns during two or three summers and continue their education during the school year.

"From an electric utility perspective, we see the need for STEM students," said Larry Bekkedahl, BPA's deputy senior vice president of transmission services.

Julie Barton-Smith, 39, had a liberal arts degree and had worked for several years at marketing jobs. But she hoped for better job opportunities with job stability and more earning power. In her late 20s, she returned to school to become an electrical engineer, earning her bachelor of science from the University of Portland.

At a university job fair she met John Haner, who leads the college student internship program for Bonneville Power Administration. Barton-Smith was hired as a BPA electrical engineer intern in May 2005, earned her degree 18 months later and was offered a full-time BPA engineering position.

"There weren't many women in my classes," said Barton-Smith. "From what I've seen, the number of women going into engineering is fairly constant."

Technically an electrical engineer in training, Barton-Smith will be a licensed engineer when she passes the professional engineering exam. Barton-Smith is a member of a communication and grid modeling group of 23 people. Of those, 21 are engineers.

Although going back to school was challenging, Barton-Smith doesn't regret her decision.

"It's much easier to find a job with an engineering degree than a liberal arts degree," she said. "Starting pay is better too."

The BPA internship is a co-op program that offers temporary employment. Sometimes the agency pays part of a student's education costs if they sign on to work a certain length of time.

"BPA's intern program puts students to work on real engineering projects from day one," Barton-Smith said.

After completing high school in her native Guam, Antoinette "Ants" Ranola moved to Portland to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an engineer. While she was working toward her master's in engineering -- both electrical and computer engineering -- at Portland State University, she was working as a BPA intern.

"It's real, meaningful work with problem solving," Ranola said of BPA's internship program.

After she completed her internship, BPA offered her full-time employment. Now Ranola, 28, mentors the interns and said, "I like helping to train students."

Ranola advises students interested in STEM careers to "look at the internships and scholarships out there to get your feet wet and get good experience. Keep working at it. If it's your dream, you'll find a way to get there. You'll find people who are willing to help. I definitely didn't do this by myself."

Making connections

A total of 214 high school students have completed internships with nLight, SEH America and other STEM employers, thanks to nConnect, a nonprofit founded by nLight Photonics CEO Scott Keeney.

Manlio Castillo Rios, nConnect's STEM coach and a former mechanical engineer for Boeing and Hewlett-Packard, facilitates internships with employers, schools and students.

"I encourage businesses to open positions to students, and to assign them real-world projects," Rios said.

When students complete their internship, they earn 0.5 high school credit and $500.

So far, 29 students have received job offers, either working full-time after high school graduation or part-time while still in school.

Calvin Cox completed a high school internship at Wacom Technology in Vancouver, then attended Clark College and now is working toward his electrical engineering degree at WSU Vancouver. Recently Cox, 20, began working full time at an electrical engineering internship at Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging.

"Students learn soft skills -- including interview and business skills," Rios said. "But they also learn about careers they didn't have much exposure to while in high school."

Starting young

In Clark County, students as young as 6 are getting hands-on experience in STEM subjects.

At Vancouver Public Schools' weLearn Technology Showcase on Nov. 8, students from Harney Elementary School demonstrated how they use iPads in their math classes to learn math concepts as they solve problems.

Students as young as 9 are designing and building robotics technology to solve problems and showcase their skills at robotics competitions at the local, regional, state and national level.

Hundreds of 9- to 14-year-old techies and their coaches are converging at Salmon Creek Elementary this weekend for the FIRST LEGO Robotics tournament. This year's challenge, "Senior Solutions," paired 35 teams with senior citizens to find solutions for quality-of-life issues for seniors.

Joe Ohama coaches his son's FIRST LEGO team of 11- and 12-year-old students. With STEM-infused education and training, these kids who are growing up immersed in technology could become the aeronautical engineers of the future.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515;;

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