As we develop our New Year’s resolutions — this will be the year we drop 20 pounds — here’s one for parents and grandparents to add to the list: Teach the children that learning about math and science is cool.Too many members of too many generations have treated mathematics and science as academic spinach. And from early ages, too many girls have been led to believe that numbers cannot be their friends. But as we become more reliant on technology for our daily lives, the case for studying these subjects becomes more and more evident.
Public schools, major corporations and even government are increasingly on board. In Clark County and across the state, STEM programs are continuing to sprout.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. And these programs are getting a lot of attention. This year, Vancouver Public Schools opened iTech Preparatory, a small STEM school with a middle school campus at the Jim Parsley Community Center and a high school program on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.
Evergreen Public Schools is building its own Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, conveniently located near PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and a cluster of associated medical offices and facilities in central Vancouver.
Bonneville Power Administration and other companies and agencies are on board, offering internships and then hiring most of their former interns.
Vancouver technology company nLight’s CEO, Scott Keeney, was behind the formation of a nonprofit called nConnect. As its name suggests, the group’s purpose is to connect high school students with mentors and internships in local companies, including nLight. So far, 214 high-schoolers have completed internships arranged by nConnect.
With all of these efforts, it’s no wonder that local students such as Farhana Kabir are finding success. Kabir’s success story was shared recently with Columbian readers by education reporter Susan Parrish. After taking time out to raise her family, Kabir went back to WSU Vancouver and earned a master’s degree in computer science. She landed a job at Intel in Oregon with a starting pay of $87,000 per year, plus benefits.
Even in a job market that can be described as sluggish at best, those kinds of high-wage jobs are out there waiting. Clark County already has nearly 14,000 technology jobs, and that number is expected to grow. Just over two years from now, in 2015, the state Employment Security Department projects 16,849 STEM jobs in Southwest Washington. Employment will increase to more than 18,000 by 2020.
Statewide, STEM jobs will comprise 8 percent of the workforce by 2018, according to state projections. Half of those will be in computer occupations (remember, Washington is home to Microsoft and other software giants.) In total, there will be 282,130 STEM jobs, up 24 percent in just a decade.
So the jobs will be there, offering a good future to young people dedicated and talented enough to take them. The path to getting those jobs is becoming better defined as schools, businesses, governments and nonprofits set up myriad ways to learn and acquire the required experience. Now it’s up to us, the parents and the grandparents, to talk to our children and encourage them to set their sights on these careers. Just because we didn’t like algebra doesn’t mean we should pass our frustrations to a future generation.