STEM Action Center board plots its course

Urged on by Gov. Butch Otter, the Idaho STEM Action Center’s board of directors Wednesday began to chart a course for the new agency.

Center leaders said their major goals include overcoming initial growing pains to achieve tangible results to share with lawmakers in 2016.

Sept. 2 STEM Action Center
Gov. Butch Otter, left, meets with members of the STEM Action Center board of directors Wednesday at the Statehouse.

Created by the 2015 Legislature, the action center is designed to promote work force development, education programs and best practices around the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

Although neither are board members, Otter and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra attended Wednesday’s meeting, the first with the full board at the table.

Otter urged the group to get to work quickly “at a predictable pace” to support Idaho’s work force needs.

“There may be a tendency for us to want to move fast, and I certainly agree because we have some work to do, and all you have to do is look at the work force today and where the work force is anemic in the STEM industries … and is in need of results and success from the STEM Action Center,” Otter said.

Board member Ken Edmunds, director of the Idaho Department of Labor, worried about working too quickly.

“I’m very apprehensive about how we are starting here, already talking about getting grant programs in place and we have no agreement on what we are going to accomplish,” Edmunds said. “I’m concerned we’re diving into details without a strategic plan. I’m opposed to agreeing with anything … unless we have a real plan.”

The action center launched in July with the appointment of board members representing business, industry and state government. On Aug. 4, Otter appointed Angela Hemingway, the State Department of Education’s former director of accountability and assessment, to serve as executive director.

Hemingway also identified some initial growing pains. She said she is “drowning in paperwork right now,” is trying to launch a logo and website and has nobody to answer the phones when she attends meetings.

Ybarra, Edmunds and Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer offered Hemingway some initial assistance, saying the center can piggyback on existing state resources.

Ybarra urged board members to include teachers in the plans, so they have a stake in the center’s work and success.

“(Educators) just want to be at the table, in respect to local control,” Ybarra said. “I’m not finger-pointing by any stretch of the imagination, but (teachers) feel like things are done to them and they are not being asked ‘How can I partner with you?’ Keep that in mind, being at the table.”

Hemingway said she will travel to Utah to meet with leaders of a STEM center that served as a partial blueprint for Idaho’s program. She also proposed three “quick wins” in advance of the 2016 legislative session:

  • Moving the STEM Educator of the Year Award under the STEM Action Center umbrella.
  • Partnering with the Idaho Science, Mathematics and Technology Coalition.
  • Paying for licenses to make Smarter Balanced’s digital library of 3,000 teacher-designed activities and lesson plans available to university professors who will be teaching Idaho’s future public school STEM teachers. The state pays for Smarter Balanced activities and lesson plans for K-12 teachers, but not for university faculty.

Hemingway is also looking to hire a program manager to round out the center’s staff.

The board plans to meet later in September and again in October to refine budget recommendations for Otter and the 2016 Legislature. No dates have been set.

Who’s on the board?

  • Chairman David Hill, State Board of Education.
  • Sayer.
  • Edmunds.
  • Tim Corder, special assistant to Ybarra.
  • Todd Allen, deputy director, Idaho National Laboratory.
  • Lorna Finman, CEO, LCF Enterprises; president, Discovery Technology, Post Falls.
  • Dee Mooney, executive director, Micron Foundation, Boise.
  • Von Hansen, president, Idaho Technology Council; CEO, AlertSense Inc., Boise.
  • Jeff Williams, retired CEO, Glanbia Foods USA.