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STEAM Academy to give students head start for science careers
As a computer engineer with General Atomics Aeronautical in San Diego, Ryan Hernandez works on the cockpit of the unmanned Predator aircraft used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the Yuma native found his calling in college, he acknowledged it would have been easier if he could have gotten a head start in high school like so many of his fellow college classmates did.
That's why he's all for a new program being developed by Yuma Union High School District that would provide a pathway for high school students who might want to pursue a career in one of the sciences.
Called STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture and Math — Academy, the program will be launched in the fall semester, with campuses at Yuma High School, open to any local high school student, and San Luis High School that is only for that school's students.
It's a partnership of YUHSD, Arizona Western College, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University with support of the local community to provide Yuma-area high school students a collegiate pathway to engineering and other science-based careers.
Students who go through the academy could potentially earn enough college credits to receive an associate's degree from AWC. And they will be able to transfer those credits to a four-year university. Those who don't pursue a four-year degree may earn an engineering technology certificate.
The program is funded by an Engineering Pathways at Rural Community Colleges Grant that was awarded to AWC, with the money coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Governor's Office of Economic Recovery.
“Definitely, it will provide a great advantage I didn't have,” said Hernandez, who went on to earn a master's degree in computer software. “My career path would have been so much easier if I had already started in high school.”
That's why he's doing all he can to support the program with curriculum suggestions and feedback.
He sees the STEAM Academy as a way to introduce students at a young age to the importance of science and math.
“Get them excited about it,” he said. “There's tons of talented kids, but they don't know the opportunities.”
Math and science are two keys to open doors and career pathways, said William Laguna, STEAM coordinator. “Our goal is to provide our students with the same opportunities as other schools around the state.”
And there are opportunities.
Tanya Hodges, UA coordinator in Yuma, said 72 major career pathways have been identified for those with a math and science background, good-paying jobs ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 or more.
“I really hope the academy will broaden the students' perspective of careers and the courses to take.”
For example, she said, agriculture, Yuma County's No. 1 economic sector, has become a high-tech industry with the need for botanists, geneticists and engineers. “If we're going to continue to feed the nation and the world, we need the next generation of scientists. What we doing is giving people the tools to go out and do things.”
But the academy also is seen as an economic development tool, noted Julie Engel, president and CEO of Greater Yuma Area Economic Development Corp.
“It will provide a skilled work force,” she said. “It will lead to engineering degrees, doctorates in agriculture and skilled workers that will help recruit industry.”
Businesses here that need a skilled work force now are going begging, noted Laguna.
Brian Thompson, instrumentation operations manager for TRAX International that does much of the engineering and analysis for weapons testing at Yuma Proving Ground, said the company has more than 50 open positions on its website at any given time.
“It's been challenging finding qualified employees,” he said, listing three reasons: It's hard to convince professional people to move to Yuma, a lot of local people lack a science background and as technology advances, people the company hires need to be more qualified.
That's one reason he serves on the STEAM Academy advisory committee, hoping the program will raise awareness and open doors for more local people. On a more personal level, he wants those opportunities to be available to his own children and grandchildren.
Alex Frias is one example of a Yuma native who acquired an engineering degree and came back to Yuma to work. He was hired by the General Motors Desert Proving Ground in 2010 after earning a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering technology from Arizona State Polytechnic in Mesa.
“I've always been interested in engineering since I was really young,” Frias said. “Currently my interest is in alternative energy and how it can be used to power homes and vehicles. That is why I'm really excited to be working for GM during this exciting time of vehicle advancement.”
YUHSD is seeking high school students who might be interested in attending the STEAM Academy. Students currently enrolled in grades 8 through 11 are eligible to apply for the early college academy. For more information, call Yuma High School Principal Faith Klostreich at 502-5000.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853.
PHOTO BY MARK SCHAUER/YPG
Caption for guy check the track on a vehicle: Yuma Proving Ground test officer Omar Silva measures the stretching of rubber components on the track of an armored vehicle. YPG conducts more track testing than any other Army installation.
PHOTO BY MARK SCHAUER/YPG
Caption for guy with blue shirt next to MATV: Test Officer Isaac Rodriguez conducts a routine check on the mine resistant ambush protected-all terrain vehicle, also known as the M-ATV, during a test at Yuma Proving Ground.
PHOTO BY MARY FLORES/YPG
Caption with guy in a fancy humvee: Brian Thompson, manager for the Electronics and Automotive Instrumentation Division for TRAX International, conducts an inspection on the Terrain Severity Measurement System before it moves out on a test course at Yuma Proving Ground.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GM
Yuma Native Alex Frias in now working on the newest vehicles being developed by General Motors after being hired by the automaker's Desert Proving Ground in 2010 following his graduation with a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering technology from Arizona State Polytechnic in Mesa.