STEM education crucial to Arizona’s future economy

A focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is vital for Arizona’s future workforce to be competitive in the global high-tech arena. Companies and state organizations have been working together to make STEM education a permanent part of school curriculums.

Intel, one of the world’s largest high-tech companies, has been reaching out to Valley schools and sending out employees to get students interested in STEM and assist teachers in furthering STEM education.

“Given Intel’s role as the creator and driver of future technologies and innovation, we believe that we have a responsibility to help prepare today’s youth with the skills they will need to succeed in the future,” said Elizabeth Shipley, public affairs regional director for Intel.

In 2016, Intel worked with the Chandler Unified School District to bring Project Lead The Way’s curriculum to two elementary schools. Through the use of hands-on projects, students were taught to solve real challenges and think of themselves as innovators. Along with providing start-up costs for the program, Intel employees often volunteer in the classroom.

“Employees also have the opportunity to share their personal stories with the students,” Shipley said. “Hearing directly from STEM professionals on what it’s like to work in the technology industry can help demystify what it means to work in a STEM field.”

Over the last five years, Intel, the Intel Foundation, and Intel employees have given more than $36 million in grants, donations and in-kind gifts to local Arizona schools, universities, and nonprofits.

This past school year, Intel expanded its Project Lead The Way to two more elementary schools in Chandler.

Many large Arizona-based companies work to promote STEM education. For example, Arizona Public Service boasts a variety of programs.

“In 2012, STEM education and STEM teacher development became the primary focus of the APS Foundation,” said Tina Marie Tentori, APS director of community affairs and executive director of the APS Foundation. Primarily through the APS Foundation, the company provides $1.4 million a year to various projects.

Those projects include West-MEC’s southwest valley campus, a partnership with APS and the Palo Verde Generating Station, which has programs for high-school juniors and seniors interested in careers in cybersecurity, construction and the energy industry.

APS also partners with the Teachers in Industry program to place teachers in summer internships with companies, allowing them to deepen industry knowledge they can then use in their classrooms. APS and Phoenix Suns Mini Grant program provides competitive teacher grants of up to $2,500 to fund “hands-on, interactive classroom projects that inspire students’ love of learning and teach STEM concepts in exciting ways,” Tentori said.

She added that APS approaches this focus as a responsibility, rather than an obligation.

“By 2027, STEM-related jobs will increase by 21 percent,” Tentori said. “As an employer, a business and a community member, it makes sense to invest in programs that prepare the next generation to compete in a 21st century economy.”

In 2010, the state and private industry created the Arizona STEM Network, led by Science Foundation Arizona. With a commitment from the Governor’s office, Helios Education Foundation and Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation provided the major funding for the Network’s development. Other partners now include JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Research Corporation of Science Advancement.

“We provide professional development on our STEM Immersion Tools and STEM Resources,” said Linda Coyle, education consultant to Science Foundation Arizona. “We also help schools create strategic plans for implementing STEM across all grade levels. Our STEM tools and resources have all been extensively evaluated and are currently shared across the nation through our partners at STEMx (a multi-state STEM network).”

Along with sharing the goal of educating a STEM-savvy network for the future, Intel, APS and the Arizona STEM Network make concerted efforts to reach out to underserved students and girls who are often overlooked in the tech and science industries.

Intel supports a STEM camp for elementary school girls that is held at Chandler High School, Shipley said.

At APS, rather than creating its own program the company partners with the Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA and other groups that target underserved populations.

“Because innovations resulting from STEM fields touch every aspect of human life, it is even more imperative that those involved represent the very communities and populations that are impacted by scientific progress,” Tentori said. “The problems of tomorrow will be complex and we will need a variety of perspectives to solve them successfully.”

Janet Perez

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