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Why STEM is the Secret to Success – For Washington and Its Youth

Washington is the fourth most popular state for technology-based corporations, but 46th for participation in science and engineering graduate programs.

What is the purpose of education? It’s hard to find two people with the same answer, and looking back across history reveals an even greater variety of perspectives.

Puritans taught children to read primarily so they could read the Bible and save their souls. During the American Revolution, thinkers like Thomas Jefferson saw education as a necessary part of successful democracy – if you want decisions made “by the people,” it’s wise to educate the people.

Contemporary opinions vary, but the prevailing view today is that education should help children develop the skills, knowledge and disposition that will allow them to contribute to society and provide for themselves. In Washington state, this mission has unique implications because our key industries all involve STEM – the handy acronym used to refer to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

A glance at our most prevalent industries makes this link obvious: aerospace depends on physics and engineering, agriculture is informed by earth sciences, clean energy technology demands expertise in engineering, chemistry and environmental sciences, and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, educational opportunities don’t always align with the opportunities that exist in the real world.

STEM By The Numbers

If you can remember having a distinct distaste for completing your math homework, you’re not alone. 61% of middle school students across the nation would rather take out the garbage than do their math homework, and the aversion doesn’t stop there. In 2011, only 30% of high school grads were ready for college-level work in science, and only 45% were ready in math. Of every 100 ninth grade students, only six will graduate from college with a STEM degree.

When considered in terms of employment opportunities, these numbers gain a new level of significance. On a national scale, growth in STEM jobs over the last ten years has been three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs and in Washington, there are 45,000 unfilled STEM jobs because applicants don’t have the required skills. Washington is the fourth most popular state for technology-based corporations, but 46th for participation in science and engineering graduate programs.

A Plan to Move Forward

Nonprofit Washington STEM is at the forefront of efforts to address this mismatch. “We work to position all young people as future ready – people with the technical and creative skills needed to thrive in work and life,” says Washington STEM CEO Patrick D’Amelio. Toward this end, the nonprofit:

1. Fosters Career Connected Learning opportunities and networks through which kids can work alongside – and learn from – real professionals in the STEM field

2. Incubates breakthrough ideas in STEM teaching and learning to identify best practices, then scaling them across the state

3. Supports policymakers and other education advocates to improve STEM teaching and learning for all students: in cities and rural areas, for boys and girls, for high-income and low-income students of all ethnicities and races

4. Ensures students have access to computer science education so they’re prepared for the hottest jobs in our region

Of course, they don’t do it all alone. D’Amelio is quick to note Washington STEM’s reliance “on the partnerships of great people in business, education, government, and community to engage and inspire students through STEM education.”

In the following months, we’ll explore some of these partnerships to showcase how Washington STEM is empowering students, teachers, corporations and communities to seize the opportunities presented by the unprecedented growth in STEM-based careers.

CenturyLink is a global communications hosting, cloud and IT services company committed to strengthening and improving the communities it serves. CenturyLink focuses its philanthropic and volunteer efforts on K-12 education programs that support technology-focused initiatives. Learn more about CenturyLink.

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