Policy met practice at the Colorado State Capitol on March 14 when Colorado Succeeds co-hosted STEM Day at the Capitol. Nearly 100 leaders from business, education, and government gathered in the Old Supreme Court Chambers to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and impart the growing need to increase STEM learning opportunities at the state level.
Attendees had the opportunity to hear from a panel of local STEM education experts and champions including:
- Dave Gingerich, Senior Staff Engineer in Space Exploration Systems at Lockheed Martin
- Gretchen Morgan, Associate Commissioner for Innovation at the Colorado Department Education
- Clay Abla, Director of Secondary Education at Littleton Public Schools
- Lowell Matthews Jr., Policy Director of College and Career Readiness at the Foundation for Excellence in Education
Why the focus on STEM? Because by 2020, nearly 55 percent of Colorado’s top jobs will require STEM skills. Yet far too few students receive the education and training needed to enter these well-paying and growing careers. That’s why we partnered with the South Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce to put on this event, and it’s why we continue to work with the legislature and our partners to close this talent gap and ensure that Colorado’s kids are ready for our state’s abundant STEM jobs.
STEM in Colorado: Current Practices
It’s important to remember that, while there is still a lot of work to be done to expand STEM education in Colorado, some districts and schools across the state are already working to integrate STEM into their curriculum.
Clay Abla of Little Public Schools (LPS), gave attendees an inside look into district-level to efforts to incorporate STEM. Four years ago, LPS began focusing on expanding its STEM curriculum when the district asked businesses, parents, and teachers what students need to graduate and embark on post-secondary opportunities. As a result, LPS revised its middle school curriculum to incorporate more STEM programming and now offers STEM centers in its middle schools. Abla stressed the importance of providing STEM opportunities to all of the district’s 3,000 students and their goal to expose students in its elementary schools.
This is just one example of the STEM initiatives being implemented in Colorado schools and districts. Key to the success of these programs is understanding what industry is looking for when it comes to their future employees. Lockheed Martin’s Dave Gingerich shed light on this: “We need people who come into Lockheed Martin and are enthusiastic about building things. We need to begin teaching all students that it’s okay to experiment so they enter the workforce engaged and ready to explore.”
Gingerich also mentioned that businesses and industries can do more to partner with Colorado schools to help students receive quality STEM experiences. One public-private partnership that is working is P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School). This model fosters a strong partnership between a company, school, and community college to create seamless college and career pathways for students. “All of the stakeholders in these kinds of partnerships gain a great amount,” Gingerich said.
P-TECH isn’t the only model that encourages strong business engagement in schools. As Lowell Matthews Jr., of the Foundation for Excellence in Education pointed out, several states have adopted and seen success via the industry certifications model. This model provides incentives for students to earn technical certifications in high-growth industries, and allows business to weigh in on curriculum design and evaluation. According to Matthews, “Students who participate in this type of program get work skills and also receive college credit. That means students have a real choice when they graduate high school.” Colorado Succeeds has worked to introduce legislation this session to bring this successful model to our state.
As Gretchen Morgan of the Colorado Department of Education noted, a shift is needed in the way we value and view post-secondary education and training opportunities. While a four-year degree remains the goal for many students, it is not the only path to success after high school. “There are many, many pathways from high school to careers that do not involve a four-year degree. We have to do more to make these pathways visible.” Indeed, industry certifications, workplace training programs, and associate’s degrees all offer students a pathway to self-sustaining careers and the middle class.