The STEM Education Issue in Wyoming (and What We’re Doing About It)

Written by Kristina Sink on Thursday, August 11th 2016

According to a report on the condition of STEM learning in the US, written by Change The Equation, an organization working with schools, communities, and states to adopt and implement STEM policies and procedures, “between 2014 and 2024, the number of STEM jobs will grow 17 percent.” The concern is that much of the workforce currently holding STEM jobs is approaching retirement age, making the demand for highly trained and well-versed individuals skyrocket, but the education system in the United States doesn’t seem to be keeping up with that demand.

STEM in Wyoming

Wyoming business leaders discussed the lack of STEM education in the community during Governor Matt Mead’s fourth annual Wyoming Broadband Summit, held on November 5th, 2015. StemConnector and MyCollegeOptions conducted a national report profiling the high school student population interested in STEM careers and predicted that in 2018, Wyoming will have 16,000 STEM jobs to fill. They also found that the percentage of Wyoming high school students interested in STEM is higher than the national average. However, when it comes to education, Wyoming is ranked 41st in the nation, with only four silver medal schools and no gold medals. Not one Wyoming school can be found on the list for the best STEM high schools in the US.

It’s not easy for Wyoming kids to just pack up and attend a college or university outside of their own state, either. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2011 that 96% of Wyoming students attend a college within their own state ­– the highest rate in the country. This might stem from the fact that the median household income in 2014 was $57,055, which hasn’t increased much from 2011 at $56,322. Making tuition costs a major factor. The University of Wyoming had an in-state tuition of $3,390 for the 2014 - 2015 school year, while the closest out of state university, Colorado State, had an out of state tuition of $24,048.

Wyoming students qualify for the WUE (Western Undergraduate Exchange), which would allow them to pay 150% of in-state tuition at CSU, a total of $11,802. This amount is still significantly higher than the amount they would pay to stay in state. When looking at these numbers the picture starts to become clear: we need to invest in our STEM education resources right here in Wyoming, because it’s far too expensive to leave the state in order to get the education needed.

What Green House Data Decided to do about it

Green House Data sponsors scholarship to iD Tech Camp for two kids from Wyoming.

This realization inspired our very own President and CEO, Shawn Mills, to act. He decided that Green House Data would sponsor two scholarships to attend iD Tech Camp’s Intro to Programming and JavaScript weeklong overnight camp this summer. “We sponsored this scholarship because STEM is a critical education component that too many young people aren’t able to access,” said Shawn Mills. “Investing in our communities is something that we know will pay off in the future.”

iD Tech Camps is a national organization that offers summer tech camps for kids ages 6 -18, with courses concentrating on coding, app development, game design, engineering, and innovation. They operate on over 130 prestigious campus locations, and maintain an 8:1 student-to-instructor ratio, making the program a perfect fit for our plan.

We created a competition for Wyoming kids to answer a few questions about what they love about technology, why they want to go to code camp, and what they hope to learn while there. Once all entries were collected, they were handed over to Shawn and a few other Green House Data executives who then chose our two winners.

The lucky kids traveled from Pinedale, Wyoming and Casper, Wyoming down to the University of Denver for a coding workshop in June 2016. Throughout the week, they learned object-oriented programming with JavaScript, and developed real-world programming skills through fun and interesting challenges.

Wyoming kids at coding campOne of the winners, Austin, said that he wanted to attend camp because he thought it would be a good skill for his future, and he really liked meeting the instructors and other campers. The second winner, Noah, said that his favorite part of camp was making a game for his final project. He created a medieval market game, where the gear you purchase changes the outcome of the upcoming battle, and every monster you beat earns you money for more gear. Their enthusiasm shows the interest in STEM is there — we just need to bring the educators and programs to Wyoming.

We can't do it alone

Our hope is that this may inspire other companies in Wyoming (and the other 49 states) to invest in our youth and help provide them with STEM opportunities. The education system, government agencies, and families may not have the resources to accomplish what is needed, so local businesses should step up and do what we can to help supplement our youth’s education.