As the global economy continues to be more and more competitive, Delaware students and businesses are sharpening their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills for the international battle for jobs.
The second STEM report card on how the state is doing is out.
Gov. Jack Markell has repeatedly said the future of jobs for the first state lies heavily in STEM industries. He said there are approximately 3.8 jobs open in the STEM fields for every unemployed worker in Delaware.
“You’ve got to have weapons when you’re competing in this global economy,” Markell explained during the Delaware STEM Council’s second annual report at the W.L. Gore and Associates Center in Newark. “You’ve got to have tools in your arsenal. You’ve got to have weapons that make you stand out and we think, really improving the level of STEM education in the state is an incredibly important one for us.”
The Delaware STEM Council was established in 2011 in an effort to promote and integrate STEM in both K-12 education, higher education and the local job market.
Markell highlighted some of council’s accomplishments. Number one on the list is the creation of the STEM Business Network.
“Our STEM Business Network, it’s a group of local companies representing large and small employers and many of the STEM disciplines is engaging the business community directly with students and their teachers to make sure that the lessons that are taught in classrooms are relevant to STEM careers,” he said.
Gore is one of nine Delaware companies that helped establish the business network.
“This is a really important initiative for us, as you probably can imagine we have lots of technical talent which is a really important commitment at Gore to drive more innovation, so we’re very proud of the initiatives,” said Terry Kelly, president and CEO of W.L. Gore and Associates. “It’s a huge source of our recruitment efforts so we obviously are very passionate of the whole topic of STEM.”
Another top priority has been improving STEM training for teachers and providing community outreach.
“We held our inaugural STEM Institute for Teachers, that included a series of practical workshops for elementary, middle-school and high-school educators,” Markell said. “And, we developed brochures for parents that emphasized the importance of stem and how parents can help.”
Dr. Teri Quinn Gray is co-chair of Delaware STEM Council as well as the president of the Delaware State Board of Education. She explained that one of the biggest challenges is making STEM available to everyone.
“From the STEM prospective, we have several schools that have excellent pathways and programs, they’re just not replicated and not spread and access is not broad enough,” Gray said. “So, in that particular case, we’re so much on the right track, but too few students are getting a chance to play in that space and experience that.”
This year, Gray said council’s two biggest goals are bringing the classroom and workplace together while continuing the STEM conversations in communities.
“We really want to make what the curriculum is doing and what the kids are experiencing there, real and relevant in the workplace, number one for us and to figure out what those specific structures need look like,” Gray explained. “Second is to take the stem conversation to communities, typically not STEM. To be right there in the middle of churches and playgrounds and say you can do this.”
Added Markell, “If a parent doesn’t see the job postings that are going up in all these other countries, they don’t realize what it is that we’re missing, and if they don’t see what we’re missing, there’s less urgency to take it to the next level.”