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By Rick Cooper
Veterinarian. Forester. Architect. Physician assistant. Video game designer. Firefighter.
What do all these seemingly disparate jobs and careers have in common?
Each requires some degree of proficiency in science, technology, engineering or math—collectively known as STEM. As a partner of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, Oregon Sea Grant (OSG) is helping students prepare for jobs that require such skills.
The goal of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, one of 11 STEM hubs across the state, is to ensure that coastal schools and educators have the support necessary to prepare students from preschool through college for 21st century STEM careers. The coastal hub is unique in that many of the subjects it focuses on are tied to marine resources, such as fisheries, wave energy and ecosystem health.
The coastal hub boasts 59 partners, including about 20 school districts and three community colleges. Housed at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), it is funded by the Oregon Department of Education.
OSG’s Cait Goodwin serves as the hub’s communications coordinator. She writes and emails a monthly newsletter about hub happenings to more than 700 subscribers. She also manages the hub’s website, which informs students about STEM-related camps, scholarships and internships. For example, in the past they’ve been able to find information on how to submit an application for a three-day stint aboard a research ship (see photo at right) and how to apply for paid summer internships assisting with field work for public agencies in Oregon.
For educators, the website provides links to grants, field trip ideas—such as visits to fish hatcheries—and opportunities for professional development. Since 2014, the hub has funded and helped coordinate over two dozen professional-development activities reaching more than 500 coastal educators, said Tracy Crews, OSG’s marine education program manager and programming lead for the hub.
On the website, teachers can also find information about educational field kits that can be checked out, including ones involving lessons on LEGO robotics, maritime history and watersheds. They can also borrow rain boots, microscopes, scales and other field equipment from three trailers in Coos Bay, Newport and Warrenton that were purchased by the hub.
Since 2014, the hub has supported more than 130 different STEM activities for students, said Crews. One of those activities is an annual competition in which students build devices powered by waves, wind and light and then compete to see which designs produce the most energy. In 2016, nearly 200 students entered 59 devices into the competition.
The hub also sponsors an annual contest in which students build remote-controlled robots. In 2016, more than 200 students on 41 teams built devices to collect hypothetical “oil samples” and “coral specimens” in a swimming pool and also navigate under lunar “ice sheets.”
The hub also sponsored a “STEMposium” in which fifth- and sixth-graders shared their ecosystem research posters with researchers at HMSC—and then heard from those same scientists about their own work. Waldport elementary teacher Faith Forshee commented about the event, “It was a great opportunity for my kids to feel like a college student, a researcher, and a member of something bigger in our community.”
Support for STEM on the coast picked up momentum in 2006 when OSG and education leaders from HMSC, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Lincoln County School District started discussing the topic, with the goal of helping local students become the most ocean-literate in the nation. In those 10 years, STEM-related jobs in Oregon have grown three times faster than non-STEM jobs, said Oregon Coast STEM Hub director Stacia Fletcher, adding that this pace is expected to continue.
“Many marine-related industries and resource management agencies, such as NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], have reported difficulties finding qualified hires for STEM-related positions,” Fletcher said. “Students who can take what they’ve learned and apply it to new situations will be in the highest demand in the workforces of the future.”