A Message from Angela Jones, CEO: Winter 2020
In just a couple of days, I will celebrate seven months in my role as CEO at Washington STEM, and I couldn’t be more excited for what the future holds. While I don’t have 20/20 vision, optically speaking, I do see clearly the role that Washington STEM will continue to play as we serve and support those furthest from opportunity.
After spending a significant amount of time traveling across the state, engaging with students, educators, legislators, and community and business leaders, the need has come into focus. Our high school students are earning post-secondary credentials at an alarmingly low rate. And yet, by 2030 over 70% of the family-sustaining wage jobs here in Washington state will require education beyond high school in the form of a two-year degree, four-year degree, or certificate. Our students—especially students of color, students in rural communities, students living in low income household, and young women—are slipping through the gaps in the system, making it difficult for them to compete for the in-demand jobs that require STEM skills. And while our great state boasts a strong, innovation-based economy, we simply aren’t setting our students up for the ability to access it. We have a moral and economic imperative to change that.
I could share more data points with you, but today, I prefer to tell you about the people I’ve met and their stories—the stuff that fuels and inspires me. On a trip to Wenatchee in the fall, I met the Galactic Farmers from Amira-Coulee-Hartline Middle School who successfully competed in the 2019 Apollo Next Giant Leap Student Challenge and won the GWATA Future Technology Leaders of the Year Award. They are an amazing team of students with a new passion for robotics and programming and a love for their agricultural roots. Their amazing and supportive principal is also the superintendent who works diligently to bolster STEM access in her region, despite its lack of regular access to broadband.
In Thurston County, I was inspired by a cross-sector group of people who came together to change, not just the economic narrative of their region, but the generational narrative for families. While many know about the lumber mill closure in the 1960’s, that was not the end of the story for this community. I had a chance to break bread and talk with those focused on forging a positive future for the region, including several CTE students. Between the middle school and high school, the district has 25 student-led businesses. I am now the proud owner of two pairs of earrings that were designed, laser cut, and artfully packaged by one of these ventures.
There are so many more stories like this. From Spokane to the Skagit, from Bellingham to Olympia, people from across our state are using creativity and ingenuity to build better futures. If we want to build a more equitable system, we must care about the humans within, and impacted by, those systems. I cannot effectively lead if I don’t understand the needs of real people. However, I know that it goes beyond just knowing the stories. On our squad, we say, “No gap gazing.” We know the data. What we need is to continue working to identify successful ways to fill those gaps, put data and tools in the hands of the people we seek to serve, and continue to center communities in all of our solutions.
People often ask us to help fill the pipeline, but pipelines typically run in one direction. I daresay the infrastructure of our state is more like the biology of the human body—overlapping, integrated systems relying on one another to sustain us. In 2020, Washington STEM is committed to continue providing the information, nutrients, and energy needed to support the strategies that lead to student, and ultimately community, success. We thank you for your continued support and partnership and look forward to what we will do together.
Angela Jones, CEO