To varying degrees, there are wheels in motion to try and boost STEM and CTE programs. The 20,000-student Hillsboro School District has dealt with its own share of constrained resources over the years, which have led to cuts in CTE and elective programs, according to assistant superintendent Steve Larson. But that hasn’t prevented the district from offering students an array of opportunities in everything from health services to automotive technology as they try and figure out their direction.
“We’re in a position where if we don’t think differently how to strengthen the experiences kids can have on a limited budget, we’re not going to turn out the outcomes we’re looking for,” Larson says.
In Hillsboro, that’s involved building close partnerships with companies in the business community like Intel, lining up job shadows and partnering with institutions such as Portland Community College, and collaborations like the Portland Metro STEM Partnership, which PPS and other districts are also part of. Larson says the HSD is also home to several STEM-focused elementary schools, an app club at one high school and vocational-education programs geared toward the real, 21st-century world.
“Those kinds of opportunities have all been updated,” he says. “We don’t want our kids building birdhouses; we want them building real houses.” The very entities that will be looking for STEM applicants to fill their ranks have also begun to step up and play a more active role. “For us, it’s never too early to get people exposed and help to demystify health care for those who might one day be interested,” says Dave Underriner, CEO of Providence Health & Services for the Oregon region. In March, the health system invited 125 high school students to its Brain Watch program, which let them watch a brain surgery live while learning about various careers in health care.
Digimarc hosts high school students for eight-week summer internships through the Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering Program’s Saturday Academy. Leatherman, too, sponsors college students for paid internships, and it has partnered with Mt. Hood Community College on customized workforce training programs. Both companies are also involved with the state’s Multiple Engineering Co-op Program, which unites college students with industry partners to enhance their real-world education.