Careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are expected to increase in the coming years, and Virginia employers are poised to contribute to this growth.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 67,900 Virginians were employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers in 2016. That number is expected to grow to 76,000 in 2026. This represents a 12 percent increase in STEM jobs in Virginia over the next decade, greater than the anticipated national average growth of 8 percent.
Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) is preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s STEM jobs. This is especially important because the Peninsula is home to numerous STEM employers, including our military installations, NASA Langley, Newport News Shipbuilding, Jefferson Lab, Canon and more.
To ensure that our students are prepared for the skill and innovation of these future jobs, Newport News Public Schools has implemented an aggressive STEM education initiative in all schools. STEM learning is intentionally embedded into existing courses; students are exposed to learning experiences that encourage them to identify and solve real world problems.
Our Engineering Design Challenges are an important component of this work. Students at all levels participate in these culminating quarterly events that task students to design and build equipment or structures that successfully complete the assigned mission. Teams of students must search, plan and implement their task. Each challenge, hosted in collaboration with a local business or industry partner, is crafted to support the Virginia Standards of Learning, demonstrate the interrelatedness of subject areas and expose students to a range of diverse career opportunities.
Over the past three years, our elementary school students have designed and built an excavator to extract simulated “coal” and “gold” out of the bedrock with Liebherr; planned and constructed a free-standing cell phone tower with Verizon; created and built an animal trap with the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation; planned and constructed a roller coaster with Busch Gardens; and constructed a simple machine to move cargo from a port yard to a train with the Port of Virginia.
Middle and high school students have faced similar, complex challenges, including the design of a tabletop spacecraft that can land on Ceres. What’s even more impressive is that these student-engineers only have two hours to solve these challenges on the day of the event.
This year, Newport News Public Schools was awarded a Department of Defense Education Agency grant to bring a CyberSTEAM (STEM + the arts) program to seven schools: Denbigh Early Childhood Center, B.C. Charles Elementary, General Stanford Elementary, Kiln Creek Elementary, Nelson Elementary, Dozier Middle and Passage Middle School. The program exposes students to coding, robotics and a game-based cybersecurity curriculum. CyberSTEAM is designed to encourage computational thinking and problem-solving skills and give students access to new technologies.
NNPS leads the way in career-readiness. Our school division has more than 65 career and technical education (CTE) courses that students can take while in middle school and high school. These courses are designed around industry standards for high-wage, high-demand and high-skill careers in healthcare, manufacturing, communications, technology and engineering. CTE courses prepare students for more than a dozen career and industry certifications, the same certifications available at local and national career colleges.
Our students can take these STEM-related courses, without leaving their high school, and earn certifications in Microsoft Office, EKG, phlebotomy, criminal justice, emergency and fire management services and career areas. Successful completion of the certification process ensures that NNPS students are prepared for success in the current labor market since professional certifications are based on industry performance requirements. Industry and professional certifications are valuable credentials that give our students a competitive edge.
STEM education in Newport News Public Schools is key to a prosperous community and quality careers for upcoming generations.