STEM Weekend at Valley Mall Stimulated Young Minds to Grow

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EL CENTRO – Bernouli’s Box, Rueben’s Tube, and a Van de Graaff generator aren’t exactly objects you expect to see at the mall. However, they are common to see in science museums in San Diego or Los Angeles. So, why were they in the Imperial Valley Mall last Saturday and Sunday? They are all science projects, part of STEM weekend at the Imperial Valley Mall.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The four subjects encompass fast growing jobs in the United States and worldwide. Unfortunately, a 2012 report by the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology indicated that the 300,000 college students graduating with a bachelors or associates degree in a STEM major don’t even fulfill a quarter of the jobs available per year. Dennis Gibbs, Imperial High School science teacher, sought to change the trend of vacant STEM jobs.

“I would say the main goal of this weekend at the mall is partly to emphasize the importance of science, tech, engineering, and math,” explained Gibbs. “Also to try to build consensus for a long term display of science related subject matter for the Imperial Valley.”

Gibbs, along with many other educators, sees the value in encouraging students to not only move on to college after high school, but to pursue jobs in STEM fields. The average entry-level salary for STEM jobs at a BA level is $66,000, meanwhile non-STEM entry-level salary is closer to $52,000. The current ratio for STEM entry-level jobs to STEM bachelor’s graduate is 2.5 to 1 according to Burning Glass’ key findings.

These numbers show that there is not only a great need for STEM jobs, but also great incentive to jump into the STEM workforce. So why, despite all the incentives, is there a glaring vacancy of jobs in the STEM market? The problem starts at the lower levels of education, particularly, high school. With few AP classes, limited funding, and few qualified teachers, students in small communities such as the Imperial Valley are really locked out of the higher levels of STEM-related education following high school.

Despite obvious disadvantages the community faces, there are still many motivated and dedicated teachers around the valley, who are actively trying to inspire students to reach further than they thought possible, and increase awareness of the vast amount of job opportunities in STEM fields. Gibbs concludes with saying “we hope that at some point there will be not only a need, but a demand, to enjoy STEM type of experiences down here, that others in places like San Diego and Los Angeles enjoy.”