STEM grants reach local schools

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(Photo by OTTO KITSINGER/Idaho STEM Action Center) Idaho Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, learns about early science, technology, engineering, and mathematics initiatives from Children’s Museum of Idaho administrative assistant Mary Fischer during STEM Matters Day at the state capitol. Hundreds of Idahoans gathered to explore and celebrate innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning. The fourth annual event, organized by the Idaho STEM Action Center, attracted students, educators, elected officials, businesses, and STEM advocates from across the state.

SANDPOINT — Two schools in the Lake Pend Oreille School District were recently awarded more than $12,000 in grants through the Idaho STEM Action Center.

Southside Elementary’s $2,319.90 grant titled “Electronic Music Composition” will help students learn the basics of electronic music composition using the Novation LAUNCHPAD MIDI Controller, according to a statement released by STEM officials on Thursday. With LAUNCHPAD, students can use loops — repeated musical patterns — and different instrument sounds within the sound library, as well as record their voices to create their own music compositions. This program can be used for performing live for an audience and/or making studio recordings.

Sandpoint High School’s computer science program development grant of $9,786 will assist the school in creating a computer science lab to accommodate growing interest in the program. Because the school is not getting larger in square footage, it is necessary the lab be mobile and portable, according to the statement.

The center awarded 70 grants worth more than $250,000 to schools, districts, libraries, and out-of-school and youth-enrichment programs statewide to advance science, technology, engineering, and math education. North Idaho schools and organizations earned 15 of the grants worth more than $57,000.

According to the statement, the center, part of the Executive Office of the Governor, awarded a total of $266,445.58 via two grant programs: 16 computer science grants worth $142,007.14, and 54 PK12 innovative STEM project grants worth $124,438.44.

The computer science grants primarily fund hardware and software used for coding, such as tablets, laptop and desktop computers, drones and TC-AYS aircraft, robots, and gear that supports platforms like ALICE, Arduino, Blocksmith, CAD, Code.org, and VR. Students will use these devices to learn coding, software-development tools, and such languages as Java, C++, Python, and Scratch. Applicants could request up to $10,000.

The PK12 innovative STEM project grants will fund creative science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer-science programs that are hands-on or project-based. The grant dollars will fulfill everything from 3D-printing initiatives, cybersecurity exercises, robotics and drone programs, and stop-motion animation classes to BrickLAB design challenges, aquaponics and meteorological projects, and STEM-related field trips to state parks — even Bogus Basin SnowSchool science camps. Applicants could request up to $2,500.

Demand for the grants, which the center began offering in 2017, remains strong. “This time total requests for our CS and PK12 grants exceeded $556,000,” Dr. Angela Hemingway, the center’s executive director, said in the statement. “It’s a competitive process and we had to decline 48 requests — two out of five applicants — but with additional industry support we could more fully fund the needs of Idaho’s STEM community.”

Hemingway said this underscores the need for the Idaho STEM Action Center Foundation. Her agency created the nonprofit a year ago to offer organizations and individuals a way to make tax-deductible donations to the center and enhance the investment the state has made in Idaho’s STEM community. The foundation is accepting donations, and to date it has raised nearly $200,000 through grants, gifts, and sponsorships. In total, center has raised more than $1.5 million from third parties to enhance its efforts to support STEM opportunities statewide.

Offering grants to boost STEM learning opportunities is critical to the state’s continued economic prosperity, according to Hemingway.

“Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation,” she said in the statement. “We have the third-fastest job growth and the second fastest technology sector growth. Meanwhile, Idaho’s unfilled STEM jobs leaped from 3,800 in 2016 to 6,300 in 2018, which represents nearly $413 million in lost personal wages and more than $22 million in lost state tax receipts. The Idaho Department of Labor predicts upwards of 100,000 STEM jobs will exist in Idaho by 2024. These jobs will represent $6.5 billion in personal income and almost $350 million in tax revenue if Idaho’s workforce is posed to fill them. If we do nothing these unfilled jobs could represent a devastating blow to our economy.”

The Idaho Department of Labor anticipates robust job growth in STEM careers by 2024, with 14 percent growth in computing, 9 percent in engineering, and 23 percent in advanced manufacturing, according to the statement.

The Idaho STEM Action Center was created in 2015 because Idaho citizens are not entering the STEM pipeline fast enough to meet current and future Idaho workforce needs. Its goals are to coordinate and facilitate implementation of STEM programs, align education and workforce needs, and increase awareness of STEM throughout Idaho. The center is working with industry, government, educators, and students to develop new resources and support high-quality teacher professional-development opportunities to foster a STEM-educated workforce that ensures Idaho’s continued economic prosperity.

Information: stem.idaho.gov

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