STEM takes center stage at Statehouse

The STEM Action Center wasn’t even in existence a year ago, when other education agencies made their annual budget presentations before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

STEM Day
While the STEM Action Center made its budget request Friday morning, students gathered in the Statehouse rotunda to show off STEM projects. (Photo by Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.)

On Friday morning, the center was before legislative budget-writers, walking them through an ambitious 2016-17 funding request.

The STEM Action Center budget request is, in essence, two requests.

  • A $2 million line item would cover the fledgling center’s day-to-day efforts to promote education in the “STEM” disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math. Those ongoing efforts would include teacher training and classroom grants, and a new wrinkle — a statewide science fair. Idaho is the only state without a statewide budget fund, STEM Action Center executive director Angela Hemingway told budget-writers.
  • Another $10 million would go into a long-term STEM Education Fund, designed to create an endowment for public-private initiatives. If this plan goes through, the center would have authority to spend $2 million from the fund. In 2016-17, the $2 million would go toward the launch of a computer science initiative.

Rep. Marc Gibbs, a Republican from Grace and a JFAC vice chair, questioned whether the education fund could get by with $2 million, rather than the $10 million. Hemingway said the endowment would demonstrate the state’s ongoing commitment to STEM, and this in turn would encourage industry donations.

Hemingway used a visual aid to try to illustrate the difference between the two budgets. A handout depicted two sets of chemistry beakers — with a blue liquid depicting the long-term fund, and a green liquid depicting the ongoing budget.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, JFAC’s House co-chair, joked that she would like to see more state budget requests illustrated with flasks. “It works for me,” she said.

STEM Matters! at the Statehouse

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

The Idaho STEM Action Center hosted more than 50 Treasure Valley students who showcased their classroom STEM projects. Students explained to lawmakers the critical and creative thinking skills they are using at school.

“It’s good to show legislators how important science is,” said Wyatt Barney, a fifth-grader at Boise’s Garfield Elementary School. “Without science many things would not be invented.”

Cameron Coulson, a seventh-grader from Lewis and Clark Middle School in Meridian, displayed the Boise FIRST Lego League — a team of students building robots with Legos and competing nationwide.

“STEM gives me a unique learning opportunity,” Coulson said. “I love building with Legos and creating new things.”

Alexia Shoemaker, a fifth-grader from Garfield, loves science — and believes more girls are participating in STEM activities.

“I’ve noticed more girls at my school who are putting their mind into STEM,” Shoemaker said. “I really enjoy the 3D printers and robots.”

Idaho Education News reporter Andrew Reed contributed to this story.