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Washington STEM Grants Attract More Students to Sciences, Math, and Technology

March 11, 2011

This week, education advocates from Microsoft, Boeing, and McKinstry joined together to celebrate the launch of Washington STEM, a new state nonprofit that aims to discover and scale innovative and effective approaches for improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.

On Monday, I was honored to represent the foundation at the first of several events, which was held at Saghalie Middle School in Federal Way. There, Julia Novy-Hildesley, the CEO of Washington STEM, announced the organization’s inaugural investment of $2.4 million to 15 educators, schools, and nonprofits in Washington state including grants to Teach For America, the Technology Access Foundation, and Federal Way Public Schools. These grants will attract more students to study science and technology in school, and ultimately to prepare themselves for college and securing a great job in the future.

As a former high school teacher and lead on economic development efforts in Washington, I found it inspiring to see so many middle school students so excited about the opportunity to learn about science and technology and so invested in their future. Each one of the young people attending the event raised their hand when asked who would be pursuing additional credentials or a college degree after graduating from high school.

The foundation is committed to the education of these young people by supporting organizations such as Washington STEM. They are focused on innovation, partnership, and breakthrough results for our state’s students. These words—innovation, partnerships, and results—are not uncommon for our state. It is home to some of the most successful businesses. In fact, Washington ranks second in the nation for innovation and entrepreneurship, and fourth in technology-based employment, largely due to the strength of our aerospace and software industries.

Yet, despite this, according to Washington STEM, we come in 46th in the United States for participation in science and engineering graduate programs. Our fourth-graders are getting only 20 minutes of science instruction each week—the lowest in the nation. What’s more, Washington is one of only 10 states in which the achievement gap in math and science is growing.

These facts are especially unfortunate because many of the jobs of tomorrow are in STEM fields. During the next five years, Washington state will only graduate enough students to fill 67 percent of the anticipated engineering jobs and 56 percent in the computer science field.

Washington STEM aims to better prepare students for these jobs and to foster the spirit of innovation and economic vitality that has been so important to our state’s prosperity for more than a century.

The organization hopes to raise $100 million during the next 10 years to make the dramatic improvements needed. They have already received $20 million in support, including our grant, a tremendous step toward reaching their goal. However, this funding alone isn’t enough. Businesses and other funders must come to the table to support this work.

We know that with a thriving STEM movement in Washington state, we can revive our students’ capacity for innovation—and our state’s and our country’s competitiveness in the 21st-century global economy.

It’s about our kids; it’s about their education. And I encourage you to learn more by visiting the Washington STEM website.

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