Drones, robots and slime … oh my!

Things got pretty wild at the Statehouse on Tuesday when kids took over the Rotunda with flying drones, robots and Play-Doh.

Students from elementary to high school showed off their technology and engineering skills to lawmakers in celebration of STEM Matters! — a campaign to raise awareness about science, technology, engineering and math in Idaho.

The Idaho STEM Action Center hosted more than 300 Treasure Valley students who showcased their classroom STEM projects and tools. Students showed off their critical and creative thinking skills they are using at school.

“This is inspiring and makes you dream bigger when you’re outside the classroom,” said Joseph Murphy, a junior at Centennial High School.

Joseph Murphy, a junior at Centennial High School, explains circuits to elementary kids using potatoes and a laptop.

The STEM Matters! event is part of Education Week at the Statehouse as lawmakers begin to piece together the budgets that will drive public schools and higher education campuses in the year ahead.

The 2015 Legislature created the STEM Action Center to build a workforce to match the employment opportunities in STEM. The center’s strategy is to strengthen Idaho’s STEM career pipeline with education and professional development for teachers. The STEM Matters! event features how taxpayer money is spent in the classroom.

“We know that it is critically important to show outcomes and impacts to ensure that taxpayer and industry funds are spent wisely,” said Angela Hemingway, the executive director of the STEM Action Center. “We use data to make informed spending, program and policy decisions.”

Hemingway asked legislators to fund the Idaho STEM Action Center at $4.7 million during her budget presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Jan. 17.

According to the Department of Labor, Idaho’s unfilled STEM jobs doubled in 2017 to nearly 7,000, which represents approximately $450 million in lost personal wages and $24 million in lost state tax receipts. The Idaho Department of Labor predicts as many as 36,000 STEM jobs could be unfilled by 2024 if the trend continues and would represent more than $120 million in lost state tax revenue annually.

The STEM Action Center is housed under Gov. Butch Otter’s office.

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