Among the state agencies up for budget hearings today are the STEM Action Center, Small Business Development Centers, TechHelp, Career-Technical Education, and the state departments of Commerce and Labor. Angela Hemingway, executive director of the STEM Action Center, said in its two and a half years, the center, created by legislation, has had 8,500 interactions with Idaho educators and more than 300,000 interactions with students. “We offer students the opportunity to experience hands-on STEM by providing resources, materials, and hands-on STEM events,” Hemingway told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The center offers scholarships to help needy students attend STEM camps, to keep learning going during the long summer break from school; and sent 14 students to an international science and engineering fair last year, at which Idaho students scored well, Hemingway reported. Family STEM and career events were held in 45 communities last year. The center also has established a foundation and is receiving growing industry contributions; and has formed a work group with industry participation to help guide a statewide computer science initiative. “We now understand how to talk to businesses and how to partner with them for a common goal, to create a STEM-ready workforce,” Hemingway said.
“Other states are looking to Idaho, wanting to replicate our visionary model of STEM education and industry engagement,” she told lawmakers. “We are so focused on developing our STEM and computer science pipelines.”
The proposed budget for the center for next year includes another one-time $2 million allocation for the statewide computer science initiative; the center also received a similar one-time allocation this year. The initiative includes grants to schools, outreach, research, regional STEM fairs, professional development for teachers and more. In addition, Gov. Butch Otter is recommending adding two positions at the center, a financial officer and a senior research analyst.
“We understand and utilize data and accountability measures,” Hemingway said, and said the two positions are aimed at that. “We know that it is critically important to show outcomes and impacts to ensure that state and industry funds are spent wisely.”
Despite her message about successes and advances, Hemingway said Idaho currently has 7,000 unfilled STEM jobs – a serious gap she hopes the center’s efforts can help fill in the future.
She cited a recent survey by Northwest Nazarene University, in which, “100 percent of Idaho individuals surveyed, 100 percent, said it is very to extremely important that future employees have the skills of problem solving, creativity and innovation. It has been demonstrated that STEM builds these essential 21st century skills.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, congratulated Hemingway on recently completing her doctorate, and asked to laughter, “Does this mean we officially call you Dr. STEMingway right now?”