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Unique partnerships can help close the gap between students and jobs

Source | LinkedIn : By Brad Smith

More than 23,000 technology sector jobs remain unfilled in Washington state. Yet at the same time, we need more educators who can teach key courses in our public schools. And we need more capacity for students who want to pursue the needed courses in college.

Today’s students looking to be part of our state’s digital boom can’t wait for long-term, systemic solutions.

We all lose out when an inspired student can’t pursue a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree. We need creative, efficient programs that remove barriers to higher education and enable students to go from an interest in STEM to a degree, a job and a career in these growing fields.

The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) is an important example of the swift solutions public-private partnerships can offer to help solve our state’s challenges. It is a first-of-its-kind partnership in the country, combining the resources of the state of Washington with those of major employers such as Microsoft and Boeing and many other private donors. Together with state matching contributions, the program has raised more than $97 million in private contributions, which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state. The total funds will be used toward college scholarships for Washington students, and already more than 6,800 students have benefited from these funds.

Recently WSOS was able to take a second step to help the systemic needs of the state. Acting under a state statute, the WSOS board awarded $6 million that came from private funds for STEM program expansion grants to three state universities. These fast-track and innovative approaches are designed to help boost the number of K‒12 STEM teachers, expand higher education computer science capacity, and support high-potential freshman college students to pursue computer science and engineering degrees.

Training future teachers

Typically, a K‒12 teacher sparks a child’s lifelong passion for STEM, creating a pipeline of students prepared for computer science and engineering careers.

The problem is there are not enough of these educators. Public-private partnerships are stepping in to fill this gap. Tapping WSOS grants, Central Washington University and Western Washington University are creating future cohorts of teachers with STEM expertise.

With an ambitious goal of doubling the number of graduating STEM teachers in the next five to seven years, Central Washington University is using its $2.2 million grant to adopt the award-winning UTeach curriculum developed by the University of Texas at Austin to address the critical shortage of STEM-focused teachers. UTeach recruits undergraduate STEM majors and prepares them to become teachers — without adding time or cost to four-year degrees. It will also follow new graduates into the classroom, supporting them through their first two years of professional teaching.

Similarly, Western Washington University is using part of its $1.6 million WSOS grant to hire more computer science faculty to teach computational thinking and computer science principles to current and future K‒12 teachers. As part of this program, the university is supporting these teachers in meeting new state computer science educational standards and earning the required endorsements.

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