STEM-focused schools promise bright futures



During SeaFair I had the pleasure of attending a briefing for potential civilian ridealongs with the Blue Angels.

With Deidre Holmberg in her Blue Angels VIP jacket.

I was picked as an alternate this year, and only as I stood on the tarmac did I learn that the person I was backing up was Deidre Holmberg, principal of Delta High School in Richland, Washington. 

I was honored to have Deidre’s back. I met her for the first time in July during the Cascade Curtain Study mission, an event sponsored by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce with an eye toward building better understanding between the eastern and western halves of our state.

Our visit to Delta High School, a STEM public school for students living in the Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland School Districts, where Deidre is principal, was my favorite part of the trip. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and Delta is an innovative effort to help cultivate the next generation of STEM professionals.

I’ve said before that I believe that as a city, Seattle should set a goal that 50% of graduates this decade will be girls and women who excel in science, technology, science and technology. 

I’m especially interested in encouraging young women to explore STEM studies, because they are greatly underrepresented in STEM careers.  As I tell young women, they will have so many more choices, flexibility and opportunities in their lives if they learn critical skills now that employers want.  

NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity mission control room

Earlier this week we saw a great example of the fascinating and important jobs a STEM focus can lead to in the mission control room for Mars Rover Curiosity.  Still male dominated, but there are a few more female faces than the Apollo days!

Career and college opportunities – in fields such as biotechnology, software design, aeronautical engineering, and others – will require adaptability, creativity, critical thinking, and technical competence in science, technology, engineering and math. Employment in these areas is projected to grow 70 percent faster than growth for other occupations.

STEM graduates on average are expected to enjoy better employment prospects and higher starting salaries than graduates in non-STEM fields.

Hard at work at Delta.

 Delta is a positive model.  Elements of STEM are woven into every subject at Delta High School, and coordination with local organizations such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) brings the curriculum into alignment with economic opportunities.  Delta students partner with volunteers for outreach events, small group mentoring, apprenticeships and more. Students work with an entire community of inventors, scientists, architects, engineers, designers and more who serve as mentors and advisors, and they have internship and job shadow opportunities.  Imagine the possibilities.

Oddly, I learned about Delta before learned about Cleveland High School’s success in Seattle.  After returning from the Tri-Cities, I reached out to our new Superintendent Jose Banda and to Cleveland’s principal Princess Shareef. 

Cleveland High School’s award-winning principal, Princess Shareef.

Cleveland High School’s program was launched just two years ago, based on the curriculum and training offered by the New Technology Network, a national group of 41 schools, many of which also have a science-math-engineering-technology (STEM) focus. 

My aim is to encourage the labor and business communities to provide support to the students and teachers at Cleveland and to provide introductions.  Those have started.

Enrollment at Cleveland is open to any Seattle student willing to commit to four years of math and science courses. Today, Cleveland offers two separate academies: School of Life Sciences and the School of Engineering and Design.  Opportunities are unlimited for those willing to work hard.

I heartily applaud Principal Shareef’s efforts and look forward to seeing the STEM program at Cleveland expand. 

I strongly believe that STEM fields are the underpinnings of future careers, and that we can align our  school curriculum, student leadership, labor, businesses, and employers for regional success.  This is important for each student’s life AND for our regional economic development.

Making “green maps” from real-world data at Cleveland High School.

Regional collaboration is what makes Deidre Holmberg one of my heroes. She’s making STEM accessible to kids from all backgrounds in the Tri-Cities area. And she’s a strong, powerful woman who confessed to me she had to overcome her fear of flying to get into the Blue Angel cockpit.  Impressive.

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