Deciphering S-T-E-A-M

What STEAM learning means for today’s students

By Gwen Soderberg-Chase

There’s good news for all Douglas County students with an interest for science and technology. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, jobs linked to those two disciplines, along with engineering and mathematics, are growing three times faster than any other kind of jobs. Clearly, these four disciplines represent crucial skills with a high demand in the workforce.

Now for the news that’s not so good. Despite the increasing importance of these skills, nearly two-thirds of Oregon students in the fourth and eighth grades are falling behind in their academic development. That’s based on National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, which show that only about a third of students in those grades test at or above the proficient level in math and science.

Here in Douglas County, educators and community partners are seeking to breach the barriers standing between students and opportunities for rewarding futures and well-rewarded careers. One of those vehicles is Umpqua Valley Regional STEAM Hub, led by Douglas County Partners for Student Success, to serve students countywide. Ours was one of six regional hubs awarded $2.8 million in state funds in February 2014. The hubs represent 21 counties and are working, among other goals, to double the number of students who earn a post-secondary degree requiring proficiency in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

In Douglas County, the “A” in STEAM Hub represents the added discipline of art. The addition recognizes the link between STEM subjects and the artistic component of creative thinking and innovation that fuels discoveries and accomplishments in each field.

In a previous DCPSS Discussion column, I explained the goals of Douglas County Partners for Student Success. This group of community leaders aims to boost our county’s vitality by plugging kids into information and resources that send them along successful career paths and bright futures. The STEAM Hub is one of the tools we’re using to make that happen.

Projects and coalitions are worthy routes to achievement, but their significance can be hard to grasp. Fortunately, I can suggest a great way to find out more about STEAM Hub while also discovering opportunities in related career fields. On Thursday, Jan. 29, Umpqua Community College will host Explore Engineering 2015 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the campus Lang Center. Representatives from local businesses and agencies will attend to provide information about careers in engineering, surveying, computing and computer science. UCC staff will be on hand to talk about student assistance/support and education programs linking to those fields. In addition, representatives from Oregon State University and Oregon Institute of Technology will provide information on their programs and transfer requirements.

Admission is free. Any middle school, high school or college-age student interested in STEAM careers can benefit, and parents are invited as well. An hour for visiting exhibits and joining activities will be followed by dinner and an hour of presentations.

By investing in the Umpqua Valley Regional STEAM Hub and its counterparts around Oregon, state officials have demonstrated their belief in the importance of their mission: to improve and guide educational efforts in crucial 21st-century skills. Launching our children in these dynamic fields benefits us all.

Please join us Jan. 29 at UCC as we Explore Engineering and related career pathways available to lead our Douglas County students to success.

Gwen Soderberg-Chase is the Project Coordinator for the Douglas County Partners for Student Success. She grew up in Douglas County and graduated from South Umpqua High School. She attended the University of Oregon for post-secondary education. She returned to Douglas County and worked as a teacher and Director of Educational Services for the Roseburg Public Schools until 2011 and has worked at UCC and in the nonprofit sector since. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Club of the Umpqua Valley, Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center and SMART.