From modest beginnings, the Skagit STEM Network has grown into an ambitious partnership between schools and businesses that helps students throughout Skagit County connect with STEM professionals, information and careers.
Now it is scheduled to grow beyond the county borders.
The Skagit STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Network began in 2015 as a partnership between the city of Sedro-Woolley and the Sedro-Woolley School District, and now serves every Skagit County school district. It is now expanding to include school districts in Whatcom, San Juan and Island counties.
“We realized there are a lot of things we’ve been doing that could be scaled to other counties in Northwest Washington,” said Michelle Judson, the program’s director.
Judson said much of the focus will remain on the network’s offerings in Skagit County, such as the Women in STEM event, which is traditionally held in the spring and in 2019 drew 400 local students, 15 vendors and an appearance by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene.
Judson said the program’s advisory board, along with learning coordinator Shaun Doffing, will continue to focus on Skagit County while the program expands and takes on the name Northwest Washington STEM Network.
The program will be based out of Northwest Educational Service District 189 in Anacortes, a centralized education resource hub that serves multiple districts.
“What I’ll focus on is trying to replicate that in Whatcom, San Juan and Island county,” Judson said. “Leaders come together to align their goals, so we’re engaging students K-12, showing them what the living-wage, high-demand jobs are.”
Partnerships with agencies such as the Port of Bellingham and Technology Alliance Group of Northwest Washington are already underway, she said.
“Once you’ve got something that works, you can replicate it,” Judson said.
Laura McKinney, the committee chair of Yes Whatcom — a campaign that connects young people with local companies — said the Northwest Washington STEM Network will bolster those efforts.
“Part of the challenge is building a network so things move at a faster pace,” McKinney said. “We’re thrilled by the expansion of the STEM Network.”
The effort will help demystify careers that may seem abstract or intimidating to young people by giving them a closer look at growing fields and those who work in them, she said.
Questions such as “What does the job look like? What are the skills needed? What will we teach you on the job?” are the types that often aren’t found in job listings but can be better answered by professionals, she said.
Judson said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the network’s programs, but staff are looking to provide as many programs as they can online in the coming months.