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Technology
Technology group's summit focuses on STEM education

Washington state has 20,000 unfilled STEM (science, math, engineering and technology) jobs. The number reflects a national trend — not enough aerospace workers are being produced in the United States. To add to the problem, the STEM workforce is aging, and fewer women are interested in the four disciplines.

Those were among the challenges introduced by several speakers to a multidisciplinary audience attending the annual West Sound Technology Association summit at Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort in September. The summit, which focused on STEM education, brought together both local professionals and representatives from companies such as Boeing and Microsoft.

Some of the six speakers highlighted solutions to the shortage — starting with the young minds of today. Locally, for example, school districts have implemented various STEM-related programs and initiatives, said Port of Bremerton CEO Tim Thomson, who is part of the Kitsap Aerospace and Defense Alliance. Olympic College is also working on producing more STEM workers — the college recently received a $2.2 million grant (out of a total $20 million state allocation) to start three new aerospace-related programs, OC president David Mitchell said.

Keynote speaker Doug King, CEO of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, credited aviation — and Washington state’s own Bill Boeing, a timber executive — with changing the way people lived.

“The world has changed and aviation has done that,” he said, in giving a brief history of the development of commercial aviation.

He also said it’s up to the new generations to carry forward the spirit of innovation. “The truth is, we have seen nothing yet. (Young people) will continue to change the world and how people live,” he said.

The Museum of Flight has various programs to help inspire and entice youth to pursue STEM careers. The organization is also a major supporter of Raisbeck Aviation High School, which in October will move to a new, $43.5 million facility built on the Museum of Flight campus. The high school, a public-private partnership that is part of Highline Public Schools, was the first aviation-themed college preparatory school in the country and is the only one in the Northwest. Students come from 22 school districts around the region, including from Kitsap.

“(The students) come because they want to be challenged. There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations for students because when you do, they will rise to the occasion,” Reba Gilman, principal of Raisbeck Aviation High School, told the audience.

The teachers at the school include engineers, pilots and flight instructors, including national board-certified teachers. The students score in the top 5 percent in state tests, Gilman said, attributing the high scores to the fact that the subjects are relevant to the students.

The school uses a project-based approach to learning, and all students complete high-profile internships before their senior year with employers such as Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and Kenmore Air. Graduates continue on both to community colleges such as Olympic College and Ivy League schools such as Harvard.

“We value networking, teamwork, public speaking and we begin connecting students with those opportunities from the moment they come,” Gilman said.

Other speakers at the summit included Susanna Malarkey, executive director of Technology Alliance, and Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern, who is on the Puget Sound Regional Council board of directors.

 
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