Foundations for the Future: An Interview with Skagit STEM Network

Thursday, December 20, 2018

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Fostering workforce talent and attracting human capital is at the core of economic development.  Ensuring that all students in Skagit County have access to opportunities and resources to develop the skills, knowledge, and capabilities to thrive and succeed in an increasingly competitive and technology-driven employment environment is an important priority.  In support of this goal, EDASC works closely with the Skagit STEM Network, whose mission is to provide resources and a collaborative environment for educators, administrators, and community-based organizations that better enable them to help Skagit County students acquire the knowledge and skills required to meet the challenges of the 21st century.


EDASC recently caught up with Michelle Judson, Director of the Skagit STEM Network, to discuss the organization’s activities and role within economic development initiatives in Skagit County.


How did the Skagit STEM Network get started?

The Skagit STEM Network was formed in 2016 through a partnership between then-Sedro Woolley Mayor Keith Wagoner, Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman, and members of the Sedro-Woolley business community.  It was their belief that a partnership between education, industry, and community is a key element in delivering the vision for where the City of Sedro-Woolley wants to be now and in the future.  Over the past two years, the Network has grown to include all seven K-12 school districts in Skagit County.


What activities does Skagit STEM Network do to advance its mission? 

The STEM Network is a public-private collective impact initiative, and action-oriented cross-sector partnership, that includes representation from the local business community, Pre-K-12 education, higher education, and community-based organizations within a defined geographic area, working toward the common goal of increasing student success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).  Efforts focus on supporting and promoting activities that no single member of the network can address alone.   

Our major goals and desired outcomes include, first, advocating for equity for all students and for the value of STEM education leading to high demand living wage jobs for students.  Second, supporting a range of Career Connected Learning experiences that move young adults toward lifelong learning.  Third, working to bridge the gap between education and industry.

As one of WA STEM’s regional networks we work in a coordinated manner to educate elected officials and policymakers about policies that expand student opportunity.  Key issues for the upcoming state legislative session include expanding Career Pathways for Washington students, particularly students from underserved communities, so that all youth can benefit from access to programs that prepare them for high-demand, family-sustaining careers in Washington.  We’re also working to  grow STEM education infrastructure through increasing computer science education, increasing system capacity to deliver equity-focused Next Generation Science Standards, supporting statewide data and measurement capacity, and expanding capital funds for STEM and career connected learning education spaces.


What has the Skagit STEM Network achieved that you are most proud of?  And what are the Skagit STEM Network’s leading goals looking ahead to 2019?

One of our signature programs is STEM Like ME!  This is an engaging interaction between professionals in STEM fields and middle school students on the cusp of understanding who they want to be in the future.  The program has three main goals:  increasing student awareness of STEM careers, increasing student awareness of education options that lead to STEM careers, and increasing student interest in pursuing STEM careers.  A pilot program during the 2017-2018 school year was an overwhelming success.  More than 500 students from four school districts participated in the program, learning and interacting with at least four industry mentors from diverse STEM-related careers with diverse education pathways.  Close to 40 industry mentors throughout Skagit County took part in at least one program.  The fact that this program brings mentors into a student's classroom provides equitable access to all students.  In 2019, STEM Like ME! will expand to impact 1000 7th graders across every Skagit County school district.

The Skagit STEM Network also works to champion the Washington State Opportunity STEM Scholarships.  In 2018, 53 Skagit County students received awards totaling $1.2 million. Skagit County has seen a year-on-year increase in these scholarships (from 13 in 2016, to 40 in 2017 and 53 in 2018).  This year marked the first time students from every school district in the county were awarded scholarships.

Also, Women in STEM Careers is an annual student-facing event showcasing high-demand living wage STEM careers in our region. The program was initiated during the 2017-2018 school year with a themed event, “Skagit Girls Code.”  350 middle school and high school girls spent a day interacting with professionals who have a variety of technology careers and also visited demonstration booths.  Through their personal stories, the speakers demonstrated to the young ladies that there are no barriers to them pursuing a technology career.  We plan to run similar events annually focusing on the region’s highest-demand STEM-related living wage jobs.   

To support these programs, the Skagit STEM Network has facilitated efforts to leverage $350,000 in grants from Washington STEM to support activities from 2016-2020.  In addition to this foundational grant from WA STEM, the Sedro-Woolley School District makes a funds a portion the of the Career Connected Learning Coordinator position.  Financial support also comes from the other Skagit K-12 school districts, the Governor's Career Connect Washington Grant, and Shell Puget Sound Refinery.


How is the Skagit STEM Network working with Skagit County communities? 

The Network is having great success in collaboration with Skagit County communities.  We brought together the seven Skagit County school district superintendents in a panel discussion on the future of education.  We are partnering with school district career specialists to establish a Skagit Career Connected Learning Network in Skagit County.  The benefits of this network will include collaboration and sharing of Career Connected Learning best practices across school districts; and a simplier communication path for businesses to reach each school district to ensure that ALL students have access to CCL opportunities as they are made available. 


Who are Skagit STEM’s target customers and stakeholders?

Our stakeholders and customers are everyone in the community who plays a role in our youth becoming career and future ready.


Where does Skagit STEM Network fit into the Skagit County economic development ecosystem?

EDASC has been a wonderful partner to the Skagit STEM Network in pursuit of our shared goal that Skagit County students will be career and future ready.  Skagit County is currently attracting new businesses, and existing companies are evolving to require increasing levels of employees with 21st Century skills.  EDASC’s leadership has enabled us to effectively engage the business community as partners in creating talent and preparing our students to be job ready.  This community-wide collaborative effort will result in long lasting benefits for the region’s youth and economy.   


The Skagit STEM Network is also actively engaged with Governor Inslee’s Career Connected Learning initiative.  Where do you see synergies between these two programs, and unique opportunities for Skagit County students and their families?

The Skagit STEM Network co-led Career Connect NW’s successful grant application in partnership with Northwest Workforce Council, through Governor Inslee’s Career Connect Washington Plan, to secure nearly $1 million in federal funding to support career-connected learning programs for youth.  The vision of Career Connect Washington is to ensure that every young adult in Washington will have multiple pathways toward economic self- sufficiency and fulfillment, strengthened by a comprehensive state-wide system for Career Connected Learning.


What are you most excited about in Skagit County economic development?

Skagit County is currently attracting new businesses, and existing companies are evolving to require increasing levels employees with 21st Century skills.  Preparing our students to be job ready will support our employers and promote job growth in the area.  A community-wide collaborative effort will result in long lasting benefits for the region’s youth, economy and general community.  The region will attract, retain, and create STEM-related jobs and industry, leading to increased earnings and investment in the local economy.

Category: Education, STEM