Linking STEM Education with Industry in Southern Arizona
Southern Arizona's economy is not as diversified or robust as our neighbors in the Phoenix area. Economic development in this region is dependent on recruiting and retaining high-technology employers, and they will not move to this area of the state in the absence of an educated technology workforce. With this in mind, the UA STEM Learning Center's Workforce Development team commissioned a report on the supply and demand of technology workers in southern Arizona. The report concluded that it will be difficult for recent UA and community-college graduates to fill technology job openings (most of which arise due to separation, or employees leaving) because most require 2-5 years of practical experience. Therefore, it is critical that we begin students' practical training earlier in their careers so that they are more marketable for technology jobs. It is also critical that we retain diverse populations in the STEM pipeline.
The UA STEM Learning Center has addressed these findings through several kinds of partnerships. First, to increase local students' contact and training in local industries, the UA-SLC has partnered with the Office of Career Services to facilitate a streamlined internship application process. This streamlined process enables more UA, community-college, and high-school STEM students to gain practical experiences, gaining valuable skills and building relationships with the region's employers. In just one year, this program increased the number of internships posted through the UA Career Services site by 40%, and the number of participating businesses by 35%.
Another way to build partnerships with industry is to strengthen our local STEM teaching workforce, allowing them to learn more about the STEM jobs in our regions and to learn the skills required in the technology workforce. The Teachers in Industry program is a business-education program that provides paid summer job experiences for classroom STEM teachers, paired with a master's degree focused on helping teachers bring STEM practices from industry back to their classrooms. This program helps to address the teacher-retention issue that many areas of our country are facing, and allows the teachers to experience first-hand the challenges and rewards that their students will feel when they enter the STEM workforce.
Finally, we have engaged Raytheon Missile Systems, one of the largest industries in our community, to cooperatively address the issue of persistence in STEM that will lead to a greater participation of underrepresented populations joining the STEM workforce. In particular, we offer a two-year professional STEM mentoring program for sophomore and junior undergraduate female students in majors that continue to lag in participation of diverse populations (electrical, computer, mechanical, and aerospace engineering, computer science, mathematics, and physics). The students are paired with early-career female engineers from Raytheon who are in turn, being mentored by Raytheon Fellows. Within the last six months, UA-SLC and Raytheon have partnered to submitted two proposals to promote persistence in STEM for (1) high-achieving, Hispanic and Native American high school girls to stay on track with math and science courses needed for baccalaureate STEM degrees, and (2) Navy ROTC undergraduate midshipmen to persist in a STEM major.