Local schools, SOLE awarded STEM grants

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SANDPOINT — On Giving Tuesday this week, the Idaho STEM Action Center announced 72 grant recipients statewide, awarding more than $130,000 to schools, districts, libraries, and out-of-school and youth-enrichment programs.

Those recipients included two local schools — Sandpoint Middle School and Southside Elementary — as well as Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education, garnering a total of $7,470 in funds for Bonner County, according to a statement by center officials on Tuesday.

Southside Elementary was awarded $2,500 for its STEAM Explorers program, which according to the grant award is designed to teach students eight science topics using the Elementary Science Vernier Direct tools and resources.

SMS was awarded $2,500 as well for a custom-built wind chime project. According to the grant award, students will use the algebra and geometry concepts they learn in seventh and eighth grades to design and create their own custom-built wind chimes. They will choose a musical scale of six compatible notes, and then, using linear algebra, determine how long to cut each 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum pipe to create the desired note. Machinery in the school’s shop, including drill presses, lathes, sanders, X-carve machine, and routers will be used, and science concepts of sound waves are explored and utilized in the design as well.

SOLE received $2,470 for its SnowSchool program, “Exploring Our Winter Wildlands.” SOLE facilitates year-round E-STEM programs for underserved rural youth, which includes the nationally-recognized and award-winning SnowSchool Experience program, according to the grant award. Students are immersed in a dynamic experiential learning environment where they are able to explore and learn in their local wildlands, from the mountains to the lake which surround their community and, as a result, develop a sense of belonging and an affinity for nature.

The center awarded a total of $133,324.66 across the state via two grant programs, according to the statement. One program is the PK-12 Innovative STEM Projects, which awarded 45 grants across the state at a total of $106,727.70. All of the grants awarded in Bonner County fell under the PK-12 Innovative program, which allowed a maximum of $2,500 per request.

The purpose of the PK-12 grants is to 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, robotics and drone programs, and coding instruction to acoustics, aeronautics, astronomy, aquaculture, biochemistry, biotechnology, electronics, and e-textiles projects, according to the statement.

The second program is the Innovative Family and Career STEM Awareness Event, with 27 grants awarded for a total of $26,596.96. These grants will fund events that engage families and community members in STEM-related activities to build awareness of and interest in STEM learning and career options, according to the statement.

Demand for the grants — which the center began offering in 2017 — remains strong, according to the statement.

“This time, total requests for our PK-12 and STEM awareness event grants exceeded $200,000,” Dr. Angela Hemingway, the center’s executive director, said in the statement. “It’s a competitive process and we had to decline 36 requests — one out of three applicants. We continue to build momentum through these programs and were able to significantly enhance our funding to communities thanks in part to Sparklight matching our funds.”

Hemingway said Sparklight, formerly CableOne, contributed $10,000, which the STEM Action Center matched, supporting 20 communities collaboratively, according to the statement In addition, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare provided $2,500, which the STEM Action Center also matched.

Hemingway’s agency created the nonprofit Idaho STEM Action Center Foundation two years ago to offer organizations and individuals a way to make tax-deductible donations to the STEM Action Center and enhance the investment the state has made in Idaho’s STEM community, according to the statement. The foundation is accepting donations and, to date, it has received nearly $1 million through grants, gifts, and sponsorships. In total, the center has raised more than $3.25 million from third parties toward its efforts in supporting STEM opportunities statewide.

Offering grants to boost STEM learning opportunities is important to the future of Idaho, Hemingway said in the statement. There were more than 8,800 unfilled STEM jobs in Idaho in October, she said, and all of Idaho’s “top-10 hot jobs” require STEM skills: registered nurses, physicians, software developers, information security analysts, computer support specialists, network systems managers, industrial engineers, computer systems analysts, and Web developers.

The Education Commission of the States anticipates robust job growth in Idaho STEM careers by 2027: 19 percent in computing, 11 percent in engineering, and 24 percent in advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing and design, according to the statement. The Idaho Department of Labor predicts upwards of 100,000 STEM jobs will exist in Idaho by 2024, and Hemingway said these jobs represent $6.5 billion in personal income and nearly $350 million in tax revenue if Idaho’s workforce is poised to fill them.

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