In 2018, 6,328 STEM jobs went unfilled in Idaho, directly leading to $412 million in lost personal income and $22.4 million lost in tax revenue for the state. Fortunately, Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the STEM Action Center (STEM AC) in the Idaho Governor’s Office and the Idaho Youth Challenge Academy (IDYCA) are working hard to prepare the state’s incoming workforce to be STEM-educated and STEM-inspired.
On Feb. 19, INL, on behalf of its operator Battelle Energy Alliance, and the STEM Action Center presented a grant to the IDYCA, whose mission is “to intervene and reclaim the lives of 16-18 year old at-risk high school dropouts.” The IDYCA provides an intensive academic intervention over the course of five-and-a-half months, where students take 14 academic credits and receive over 1,000 hours of instruction.
According to Bicker Therien, principal of the IDYCA, because the students are at the school 24/7, they are constantly met with new learning opportunities. Each cadet at the school performs at least 40 hours of service to their community, which includes work at the fish hatchery in Orofino, work with veterans groups and nursing homes, and trail clearing with the Forest Service.
“The program exists to serve not just at-risk students, but schools as well, because we take the most at-risk students, and send them home as much more successful students,” Therien explained. “It’s good for the kids, the schools and the state of Idaho.”
The IDYCA has seen high success, with an 85 percent retention rate, and 80 percent of its students positively placed within six months after their time at the school.
In addition to awarding the IDYCA a number of grants over the past decade, INL has also presented and participated in STEM activities and experiments in classrooms there for a number of years. “Every year we head to the classrooms of ICYA hoping to inspire young minds to choose a future in engineering, energy and cybersecurity at INL,” said Amy Lientz, INL’s director of Stakeholder and Education Partnerships. “But honestly, I think we are the ones that are inspired by the students’ dedication and passion to learn.”
The STEM AC has also supported the IDYCA since the STEM AC’s inception through gifts such as a 3D printer.
This new grant money provided through INL and the STEM AC will help the IDYCA science classrooms purchase new lab tables and equipment. Currently, the classrooms only have folding plastic tables, which do not functional well in a laboratory setting. These tables will make the lab projects more feasible and make the STEM space at the school more user-friendly.
Therien cannot emphasize enough the importance of IDYCA in the community and in its students’ lives. “Of all the experiences they have here, one of the most important things is that they learn that they can learn difficult stuff,” he said. “With all the hands-on projects we do and all the engaging activities, they really get turned on to learning.”
INL, the IDYCA and the STEM AC expect to continue in their positive partnerships to prepare Idaho’s workforce for further STEM education and careers.