$6 Million Donation Will Help Advance Washington STEM Education

The donation from Boeing will go to 50 education institutions and nonprofits.

by Katherine Long, The Seattle Times / September 22, 2016 0

(TNS) — Boeing is giving $6 million to a wide-ranging group of nonprofits and education institutions throughout the state in an effort to boost tech training and skills.

The company is aiming to reach a diverse group of high school and college students, many of whom historically haven't pursued STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Boeing CEO Ray Conner said the company wants to provide opportunities for tech jobs to a generation that's growing more racially and ethnically diverse.

"We're trying to reach out to the population that has been a little bit underserved over the course of time," he said.

Conner, a graduate of Highline High School in Burien and Central Washington University, said he hoped the grants would help better prepare Washington students for jobs at Boeing and other tech-centered companies in the region.

"We talk about being a company that's committed to the community, to our young people, and we want to put our money where our mouth is," he said.

The grants include $500,000 to the University of Washington to help underrepresented high school students plan their college careers, and be successful in school. It includes money to expand the Dream Project, an 11-year-old mentorship project started by a UW student that trains undergraduate UW students to help high-school students study for the SAT, apply for college and secure financial aid.

Another $250,000 will go to Washington State University's Everett campus, WSU North Puget Sound, to build a state-of-the-art lab space in the university's new building that opens in about a year. The 900-square-foot lab will include a 3D printer and scanner, computer-controlled machining mill and laser cutter, and will be known as the Boeing Innovation Studio.

And $250,000 will go to Seattle University's College of Science and Engineering, to improve retention rates of nontraditional students in undergraduate engineering and computer science.

In all, 50 institutions and nonprofits will receive money from the grants. Among the major recipients are Thrive Washington, which focuses on early learning; Washington STEM, which works with K-12 schools; and SkillUp Washington, which works with community and technical colleges.

Some grants are so small as to be experimental in nature, and are meant to encourage new and different ideas, a Boeing spokesman said.

Conner said he hopes the programs supported by the grants will give students "more of a near-term vision of what they could do right away" after graduating from high school or college.

About half of Boeing's technical workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five to seven years. Boeing has 77,000 workers in Washington state, so it will need to fill tens of thousands of jobs in the coming years.

"We don't want to go anywhere else to make that happen," Conner said. "That would be a real failure."

©2016 The Seattle Times, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.