STEM center set to ignite Idaho’s workforce

Angela Hemingway had just two things on the first day of her new job — four pages of legislation and a lunch box.

No office. No desk. No staff. No job description.

“I didn’t even have a pen,” she remembers.

One year later, Hemingway and her Idaho STEM Action Center are well positioned, she says, to begin creating a work force for the 3,800 STEM jobs that went unfilled in Idaho last year.

“When that number is zero, I’ve done my job,” Hemingway said. “When supply and demand is balanced, then the center has done its job.”

Angela Hemingway1
Angela Hemingway is the director of the Idaho STEM Action Center, a legislative initiative designed to connect education and industry.

The 2015 Legislature created the center to build a work force to match the employment opportunities in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. The center’s strategy is to strengthen Idaho’s STEM career pipeline with education and professional development for teachers. The center also will be a conduit between education and industry.

The Legislature has made a big commitment to accomplish these goals — $4.5 million, including $1.5 million in ongoing funds.

The STEM Action Center is housed under Gov. Butch Otter’s office. Hemingway was the director of assessment and accountability for the State Department of Education when she was selected to lead it. She has taught at the high school and university level and is working on her doctorate in education policy.

“If I would have written a description for my dream job this would be it,” Hemingway said. “It’s innovation, creativity, working with people — and feeling I’m making a difference.”

The center is unique positioned under the governor’s office, instead of the State Department of Education. Hemingway said she can leverage the positioning to create new networks and connections between industry and education to bolster Idaho’s economy.

According to the Department of Labor, Idaho lost $254 million in unclaimed wages with the 3,800 unfilled STEM jobs. It’s expected to get worse. By 2025, it’s predicted Idaho will be lacking 63,000 workers to fill jobs ranging from the construction and service sectors to medical and technology fields. Many of these job will require STEM-related skills and knowledge. More than 60 percent of the projected jobs by 2020 will require a college degree or postsecondary certificate, according to the Department of Labor.

“My mission is to connect education and industry to ensure Idaho’s economic prosperity,” Hemingway said.

To fulfill her mission, Hemingway hired two other full-time employees who compliment her professional background in education.

Erica Compton came from the Commission for Libraries, where she worked on the informal side of STEM education. Compton, the center’s STEM program manager, oversees grants, professional development programs, event planning and public outreach.

Finia Dinh came from the Department of Labor and to manage the center’s computer science program. She brings industry connections to the team.

This month the trio moved into their new digs near the top of Downtown Boise’s famed Hoff Building.

“We’re in the middle of industry, right where we want to be,” Hemingway said.

The STEM Action Center is guided by a nine-member board appointed by the governor. Five board members represent industry, including Dee Mooney, executive director of the Micron Foundation.

“The industry representatives bring real world examples of workforce needs with the goal of helping to produce a competitive work force,” Mooney said. “With Angela Hemingway at the helm, I have no doubt we will get there.”

The center will focus on five areas:

  • Student learning and achievement (including underrepresented populations).
  • Student access to STEM (including equity).
  • Teacher professional development.
  • College and career STEM pathways.
  • Industry and work force needs.

The center’s first big projects include planning a statewide science and engineering fair, scheduled for the spring of 2017; selecting STEM educators of the year; awarding grants and solidifying industry partners.

“As more companies become aware of the STEM Action Center efforts, I’m hoping they will support programs either financially or by offering internships and job shadow opportunities in order to show off interesting careers,” Mooney said.

Hemingway will make data-driven decisions, she said, to gauge the effectiveness of  programs and their outcomes. She’ll review test scores and graduation rates and survey teachers, parents and kids involved in STEM events.

“We’ll want to make sure we’re having an impact,” Hemingway said.

Hemingway rarely walks away from her dream job, except to spend time with her husband of 20 years, Parke Hemingway, and their 14-year-old son Magnus. They enjoy family backpacking trips to Stanley, mostly so they can get Angela off the grid and away from her technology.

When Hemingway got the job last year, which came with a $100,000 salary, she bought a new ring with a band shaped like DNA strands.

“I wanted a DNA strand tattoo but instead treated myself to the ring,” she said. “STEM is my life.”