Washington STEM program brings professionals to Wahluke Junior High

Mar. 20—MATTAWA — Several professionals from the Hanford Nuclear Site visited Wahluke Junior High's eighth-grade science class March 15 as part of the Washington State STEM Education Foundation's STEM Like ME! program, which will head to the junior high's seventh-grade science class March 22.

Wahluke School District's Career & Technical Education Director Betty Palmer said the event is intended to expose students to different careers related to STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Palmer said the visit was run by the STEM Foundation's Senior Program Manager Heather Tibbett.

"She brought up seven individuals who volunteered their time," Palmer said. "They're all specialist engineers associated with Hanford. So they came up to do some presentations with hands-on activities, but during those hands-on activities, they were engaging with the students about STEM-related careers or topics, and just kind of meeting the kids, so to speak. It's kind of cool, and that's right up our alley. In my case with Career Tech Ed, that's exactly what we want to have happening."

The visits are focused on science students and science-related careers, Palmer said.

"I'm trying to capitalize on all these opportunities, where we can provide opportunities for students to see something that they hadn't thought about before...We just want kids to understand that they can be an engineer, even if they've never seen one before or they don't know one here," Palmer said. "You can do it, there are jobs, there is work, it's really interesting and very, very broad (with a) huge range of jobs. So whatever it is we can do with kids in the science class, we also have kids and engineering classes and robotics classes and we're trying to make sure all of those students are making a connection with what they're learning in school to some application in the real world that is of interest to them."

Palmer said there seem to be more opportunities for students to interact with career professionals in person or one-on-one.

"It's actually increasing and it's pretty darn cool. It's really hard to haul that many kids off-site," Palmer said. "But to have volunteers come out here and where kids can engage in small groups like that is pretty amazing. So there's more and more of those events happening and it just takes a few key individuals in a building to make stuff like that happen ... We're not that far from anywhere. We're not rural. It's not a rural school district, but it still takes an investment to come to Mattawa."

Even though more opportunities for student exposure to different careers and career paths are presenting themselves, Palmer said she still wants to have a wider variety of exposure and a broader scope of careers. She used real estate agents as an example.

"(Students) want to get into real estate, but do they know about commercial real estate on the global market? Do they know the big picture things?" she asked. "Are they thinking about just flipping houses, or are they thinking about apartment buildings? Are they thinking about being part of a change in the community and working with...architects and planners? What are they thinking about? Do they understand those connections?"

Palmer said she can't expose students to everything out there, but there is always more to show them.

"I don't want to just bring in one agent," she said, "I would like to bring in a real estate agent, and then maybe a developer that works with a different kind of agent, or maybe somebody that's worked in Mexico or worked in Singapore, or on bigger stuff to talk with students. So there's always more."

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.