In Our View: Local STEM Efforts Grow

Public-private partnerships are crucial in guiding students toward great careers

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The growing national and local emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education will not succeed if these forward-looking fields of learning are kept in four silos. Extensive outreach and total buy-in by governments and communities are necessary. Partnerships with private-sector professionals must be nurtured. Mentoring programs and internships will be crucial.Fortunately for Clark County, such outreach efforts are in full bloom here. Two examples have emerged in the past week.

Last Thursday evening, educators, students, professionals and volunteers were joined by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray at a program celebrating the accomplishments of nConnect. This STEM mentoring nonprofit organization was founded eight years ago by Scott Keeney, chief executive officer at nLight, which manufactures semiconductor lasers. Since the 2005-2006 school year, nConnect has grown from 36 students and one intern to 1,650 students and 100 internships. The guidance team has grown from seven nLight physicist-mentors and seven high school physics teachers to 232 mentors and 144 mentor businesses.

Here are three examples of the powerful progress being forged by nConnect students, according to a Feb. 22 Columbian story by Susan Parrish:

Reem Sabha is a Mountain View High School junior who is being mentored in her Advanced Placement calculus class. "My whole life has changed," she explained. "I love calculus now, and I want to be an engineer."

Aloren Martin, a freshman at Washington State University Vancouver, completed an nConnect internship at Northwest Bioanalytical Services during her junior year at Heritage High School. Her goals in chemistry include a master's degree at Yale and a Ph.D. at the University of Oxford in England.

Valeriy Gershun, a senior at Evergreen High School, has completed an internship at SEH America. The result of that participation is his goal to become a mechanical engineer.

As Murray noted at the celebration, "We have an education deficit in this country. Investing in STEM programs is absolutely critical for our future."

Congratulations to the mentors and students -- and especially to nLight officials -- for the rousing success of the public-private partnership known as nConnect.

A Saturday story in The Columbian reported on progress at Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School, the Evergreen district's health and bioscience school that is scheduled to open in September. What makes "HeLa High" special is the school's partnership with its neighbor, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. A study by the Evergreen district revealed that about 20 percent of its ninth-graders are planning careers in health care.

With hands-on guidance by professionals at PeaceHealth Southwest, HeLa students will turn internships into head starts on their careers. Freshmen will take core courses such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology, and then choose one of five career paths: nursing and patient care; health informatics (managing health information); biomedical engineering; pharmacy; or biotechnology. All five career fields offer ample opportunities for high-paying jobs.

Kudos to officials at the Evergreen school district and PeaceHealth Southwest who have worked more than a decade to prepare their partnership promoting STEM education.