Business and education leaders urge STEM education

2013-10-18T00:26:00Z 2014-01-13T07:16:54Z Business and education leaders urge STEM educationBarbara Christiansen - Daily Herald Daily Herald
October 18, 2013 12:26 am  • 

It's the stuff that things are made with -- all kinds of things.

And without science, technology, engineering and math, we would not have much of what we take for granted in our world today.

A panel from government, business and education answered questions about STEM for the Women's Business Network luncheon on Thursday.

Seven panelists shared ideas and answered questions. One major focus they addressed was the lack of a prepared workforce to fill jobs in Utah County and across the nation.

"There aren't enough qualified workers here," Kim Buhler, an immigration attorney, said. "The US only issues 85,000 professional visas a year. This year we are meeting with clients the first week in January. They will apply for some of those work visas." If local workers are trained, the need to bring others to the country will not be as great.

Jessica Egbert, vice president at Rocky Mountain University, said the fields bring good workers and more.

"These field are essential to our economic stability and growth," she said. "They bring with them other things." When a company employs workers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, there are usually additional positions open for others.

Provo's mayor, John Curtis, agreed.

"My single biggest impediment to bringing businesses to Provo is that there are not enough qualified workers," he said.

Stan Lockhart of IM Flash Technologies said the current situation in Utah was critical.

"We don't have enough workers to take high paying jobs," he said. "Companies keep pleading with us to produce more. They love being in Utah. They simply can't get the people. For example, they are desperate for more software developers."

He asked the attendees to imagine that they were space aliens visiting a high school. Everywhere the alien would go, he would find the students preparing to play in the band for the next football game, to take the field for the game, or to be cheerleaders. That would lead the alien to believe it was not an academic institution, but one devoted to sports.

Not only are there not enough prepared to work in the fields, there are not enough women in the disciplines, the panelists said.

"We don't have enough women in STEM fields at the higher levels," Cheryl Hanewicz, associate professor and department chairwoman of the Technology Management program at UVU, said. She said one reason might be the micro messages that girls receive.

"Girls maybe see these in their counselors or through not having an instructor look at them when they speak," she said. "It is amazing what a little message can do. We should really try to imagine and think about how you talk to these girls. Neighbors, family members and teachers all send messages."

Sometimes messages come from teachers, whether they speak or not, but just by being there.

Rick Nielsen, superintendent of Nebo School District, said economic conditions affect the way teachers choose their fields. Because there are more opportunities for secondary teachers to supplement their incomes by methods including coaching or taking on additional classes, more males tend to go into secondary education to support their families.

"In elementary education there are few male role models," he said. "In secondary education we have a hard time getting female role models for the girls." He said that particularly affected science, technology, engineering and math.

Alisa Kirkham represented Kirkham Motors, a company which employs some in the STEM fields. She also spoke as the mom of students at Timpview High School. That school recently canceled some STEM-related classes, but may be starting a new program for them, she said. She put specific focus on two of the four pursuits.

"Technology and engineering are creating our world," she said. "Consider how often you hear science and math."

"We are getting all of our goods from China," she added. "When are we going to get them from here?"

Parents and neighbors can and should help, Egbert said.

"If we were doing justice to it we would do it as a community as a whole," she said. Businesses can help with education, training and mentoring, she said.

"The community is the answer," she said.

Curtis lauded the parents at Timpview who were able to affect the curriculum to help their students.

"Parents can make a change," he said. "We must own this. We must change it. We can let go and empower those who do get it." He admitted he did not do as well as he would have liked in those classes.

Some of those in the audience made suggestions of sources that could help the situation. Those will be made available through the Women's Business Network -- or

Michele Bates, president of the WBN, said it was an important issue.

"I have been worried about this a couple of years," she said. "It needs to be exciting. It creates everything that makes the world amazing. We need to get kids educated."

-- Barbara Christiansen covers news in American Fork ˜ government, schools, residents, business and more.
Read more from Barbara Christiansen here.

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