Garrison MS program smart way to promote STEM careers

A Garrison Middle School after-school program is now focusing on space and science, with the goal of getting some of the kids hooked on science.

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An after-school program at Garrison Middle School is tackling a serious statewide (and national) concern that’s vexing governors and lawmakers. Too few students, particularly minority students, are seeking careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Garrison program is small, but it could prove to be successful in the long-term as it seeks to inspire studens to seek a career in the these fields, know as STEM.

Gov. Jay Inslee has been touting the need and pitching plans to get more students interested in STEM learning since he was a member of Congress.

Having enough workers who are well-trained in those fields is critical to the continued growth and success of the state. Washington state is home to many well-paying (even fantastic paying) STEM careers at places such as Microsoft, Boeing and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (in Richland).

And former Gov. Chris Gregoire, state lawmakers, business leaders and just about anybody who has a stake in Washington’s future have been focused on getting more young students interested in pursuing STEM college degrees and careers.

How can this be accomplished?

A variety of avenues are being followed — mandating that math and science tests must be passed to graduate from high school, establishing public-private partnerships to promote STEM education and increasing the number of slots available at state universities for those majoring in STEM fields.

These concepts should help.

But a somewhat simple approach being taken at Garrison could be a way to real success. Garrison’s 3Rs after-school program, run by Brent Cummings, provides the opportunities necessary to get kids hooked on learning, including science and math.

And at Garrison, a school with a Hispanic student body of about 50 percent, it provides Latino students — who statistically are not well-represented in these fields — opportunities in science and other subjects.

Hispanic women are the least represented group in STEM fields, so Cummings used a monthlong space project — building and launching a weather balloon — as a way to reach as many Latina students as possible. The project was open exclusively to Latinas.

All the girls Cummings approached to take part in the project got involved. They have been working on team building taken a trip to Whitman College’s Hall of Science observatory and will finish up with a balloon launch in June.

“We’re trying to create some sort of catalyst for a future,” Cummings said. “Research has shown that it’s experiences at a young age ... those are what serve as a catalyst.”

Cummings isn’t alone in generating interest in STEM, and the program is the type needed statewide if Washington is to increase the number of graduates ready for STEM careers.

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