$250K STEM education grant benefits Nebraska middle schoolers

A program to build collaboration between Nebraska businesses and schools has awarded two grants of $125,000 to promote STEM education. 

The program, called the The Developing Youth Talent Initiative, awarded the grants to provide enhanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning opportunities to middle school students. 

Since the program began in 2015, it has reached about 24,500 students across more than 60 Nebraska schools, said Gov. Pete Ricketts at a Monday press conference announcing the grants. 

Grant recipients partner with schools to offer hands-on career education in high-demand fields such as IT, manufacturing, engineering and health care, giving involved students a head start in these hyper-competitive fields. 

The first recipient is 21st Century Equipment, a Scottsbluff, Nebraska based business specializing in “precision agriculture” products. They intend to use the grant to fund a mobile learning lab to travel from school to school across the state showcasing new technologies through hands-on student involvement. 

The other grantee is MetalQuest, a Hebron, Nebraska metal fabrication firm which will use the money to provide students with technology to operate their own robotics program, or to expand already established programs. 

To address a growing gap between available employees and unfilled job openings in the STEM fields, Nebraska Economic Development Director Tony Goins said there is a “critical need to reach kids at a young age,” to ensure they seek employment within the state after graduating. 

Nebraska has the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation, yet twelve straight months of high employment has still left a reported 50,000 jobs unfilled, most in tech-heavy industries. 

Similar programs have been launched in other states with far higher rates of unemployment than Nebraska, and those initiatives have made significant inroads in closing the “STEM gap” in their states. Like Nebraska, these states have seen increases in student interest in manufacturing, engineering, and other tech-related industries following such collaborations. 

With ever-increasing specialization across manufacturing, development, and research endeavors, providing avenues to those industries at an early age may prove beneficial to both students and their future employers.