By Robin Wojtanik
The Tri-City community benefits from both grass-roots and professional efforts to spread awareness of STEM concepts, projects and ideas in the region.
It’s vital to get kids interested in STEM topics early in their education journey if they are to continue on that path into adulthood.Jillian Cadwell
From small ideas with the potential to make a big impact, to large projects affecting thousands, there is a strong push by nonprofits to make today’s youth aware of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – collectively known as STEM. The local drive ties into a national effort to increase the number of Americans proficient in these fields.
The Mid-Columbia STEM Network is working to advance awareness of the wide array of STEM jobs available right in the Tri-Cities and to overcome what’s known as the STEM skills gap. Simply put, this is the separation between the jobs available and the qualified work force to fill them.
The network’s annual budget is $225,000, with the majority raised from businesses across the state, outside of the Mid-Columbia, thanks to a partnership with the state STEM group based in Seattle.
One of the ways the network is working to close the gap is through its pilot program, STEM Like ME!, or SLM.
Targeted to middle schoolers, SLM addresses the immediate disparity of students pursuing STEM subjects as they prepare to enter high school.
Through this program, the nonprofit brings STEM careers to life by scheduling one-day visits at middle schools in the greater Tri-City school districts. During these sessions, STEM professionals meet with students in small groups and tell them about the education and experience needed to find employment in their current field.
These mentor volunteers also bring a hands-on demonstration or depiction of their jobs for the students to more easily connect with. Organizers hope the effort will inspire students to consider a STEM career and register for more challenging STEM courses at the high school level.