Gov. Gary Herbert met with elementary students and UVU administrators at the UVU library for a ceremonial bill signing Thursday, May 16.
The bill, HB150, is focused on expanding the scope of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Utah schools.
Fifth and sixth grade students at Orem Elementary have been enrolled in a STEM program that aligned with their normal science and math classes. Before the bill signing, students showed off their skills to the governor with a robot they had built and programmed to follow a specific path.
During the demonstration, Herbert continually asked children the question: “What’s the purpose?” According to Herbert, the key to STEM education is that it helps children understand the practical use of science and math and gives them skills they can use in the work force.
“We’re preparing the workforce of tomorrow today,” Herbert said. Utah is in need of engineers and technology professionals. “That is a need we’re under fulfilling,” he said. Utah is currently importing a large portion of its engineers. Herbert said he hopes that the new bill will be a step toward solving that problem.
UVU president Matthew Holland agrees. “There’s such a demand for workers in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Holland said. “Anything that gets kids more interested in math and science will pay dividends in the future.” Holland said that making STEM education more of a priority will mean a change in the “cultural mindset” of Utah.
The focus on STEM education “represents an attitude that we are developing in Utah,” Herbert said. He said he plans to continue funding programs that support STEM education.
Herbert said his primary focus for Utah is economic development, but he also pointed out that a good economy starts with good education. In order to grow economically, Utah’s education system needs to teach children skills that will help them keep up with the market demands. Improving STEM education will “prepare young people to become the leaders of tomorrow,” he said.
And children are enjoying the opportunity. “They loved it,” said Rachelle Bolingbroke, principle of Orem Elementary. The STEM program at Orem Elementary gives children a reason to enjoy math and science. Bolingbroke said building and programming robots themselves gave children a sense of self-accomplishment. The program also helps children understand what kinds of jobs are available in the technology and engineering fields.
The STEM program at Orem Elementary was a 10 week program for fifth and sixth grade students. Bolingbroke said she hopes the program will expand to become a year-long program that includes all grades.
Bolingbroke said the children felt honored to be invited to the bill signing with the governor. She told the children, “This is history that you’re witnessing here.”