Engineering innovative opportunities for educators, students, communities, and industry to build a competitive Idaho workforce and economy through STEM and computer science education.
Produce a diverse, equitable, thriving ecosystem for a prosperous, STEM-literate Idaho.
Introduction, History, and Future
Equitable access to high-quality STEM education should not be considered a privilege; it is a necessity. A robust education, including STEM, will ensure that Idaho’s workforce has the necessary skills to be prepared for the jobs of the future. Year after year, thousands of Idaho STEM jobs remain unfilled as demand for a STEM-skilled workforce has significantly outpaced supply. The result is lost wages for Idahoans as STEM jobs consistently pay twice the median wage of non-STEM jobs. If filled, STEM jobs would provide an increase to personal income for Idaho citizens.
However, not all Idaho students have equitable access to STEM opportunities. STEM AC is tasked with closing this equity gap by providing diverse STEM opportunities for students, educators, and communities. A “general, uniform, and thorough” system of education is a mandate of Idaho’s constitution. Equity is at the heart of uniformity and thoroughness. Robust K12 experiences, including exposure to engaging, hands-on STEM education and careers, are essential to prepare students for future jobs. Now, more than ever, students and Idaho’s workforce need to be equipped with the critical thinking, problem-solving, and computational literacy skills required for many jobs. Enhancing the skill sets of Idahoans in STEM-focused areas will support the need to navigate the ever-changing world, including the reliance on digital technologies and the infusion of digital competency into all facets of life, school, recreation, and the workforce.
These coordinated statewide STEM-focused efforts will support Idaho as an in-demand business destination. Idaho will have a citizenry that not only recognizes the importance of STEM, but one that also possesses a workforce with the necessary STEM skills that employers are demanding. A highly skilled STEM workforce will lead to increased investment and business opportunities throughout Idaho. Educators will have the necessary STEM skills and resources to engage students. Students will have equitable access to STEM education and will possess the 21st century skills that all Idaho employers require: critical thinking; problem-solving; collaboration; and innovation. Ultimately, Idaho students will choose to stay in Idaho to live and to work because the state can offer them solid jobs within their areas of interest, and they will possess the resilience to ensure personal success within Idaho’s changing economy. The result of these collaborative efforts will be an increase in the number of businesses throughout the state and an increased number of jobs available to Idahoans. In turn, these strategic partnerships will bolster Idaho’s economy and lead to long-term economic prosperity for the state and its citizens.
Core Functions and Idaho Code
STEM AC’s enacting legislation (Idaho Code 67-823) focuses on five broad areas: 1) coordination of state-level STEM-related activities including equity; 2) promotion of STEM through best practices in education; 3) support of high-quality professional development and grants for educators; 4) facilitation of STEM-related competitions, fairs, camps, and student programs; and 5) engagement of private industry in the development, implementation, and sustainability of STEM AC programs. Fulfilling legislative intent is accomplished by offering grant and professional development opportunities to educators, students, and communities, and measuring outcomes from those activities.
STEM AC has also partnered with other state agencies and businesses to bring forth the following STEM legislation:
- Computer Science Initiative (Idaho Code 33-1633, passed 2016). This legislation directs STEM AC to focus on critical training and educational needs to help populate Idaho’s growing need for a tech-savvy workforce.]
- STEM School Designation (Idaho Code 33-4701, passed 2017). In collaboration with the Office of the State Board of Education (OSBE), this designation is formally recognized by OSBE and the Governor’s Office. Six schools have been designated in the first two years.
- CS for All (Idaho Code 33-1634, passed 2018). This legislation requires all Idaho high schools to offer at least one computer science course starting in 2020.
- STEM Diploma (Idaho Code 33-523, passed 2018). This legislation provides recognition for students who have taken STEM course work that is significantly more rigorous than state graduation requirements.
The White House also recognizes the importance of STEM and STEM education and has released the federal STEM strategic plan with the goals of: 1) Building strong foundations for STEM literacy; 2) Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM; and 3) Preparing the STEM workforce for the future. To accomplish these goals, one of the STEM pathways is to develop and enrich strategic partnerships by fostering STEM Ecosystems that unite communities. To accomplish this, STEM AC continues to form strategic partnerships to build the Idaho STEM Ecosystem. Once fully developed, the Idaho STEM Ecosystem will serve all communities and enhance STEM engagement, thereby allowing Idahoans to leverage local resources in collaboration with statewide STEM stakeholders.
A key to STEM AC’s success is significant industry engagement with programs, projects, and outreach efforts. Idaho businesses have shown they are committed to supporting STEM education by providing in-kind and cash support to STEM AC opportunities. In FY20 alone, STEM AC raised over $1.75M in external funding. This is accomplished through sponsorships of student competitions, integration of collaborative industry-educator projects funded via grants, professional development guided by industry input, STEM professionals serving as mentors and volunteers, and through various workforce development initiatives such as public-private partnerships. Additionally, STEM AC Foundation was created to engage more effectively with a broader network of businesses.
- Idaho STEM AC Legislation
- Computer Science Initiative
- Creation of STEM Education Fund
- STEM School Designation
- CS For ALL
- STEM Diploma
- Idaho Tax Credit Legislation