Leveraging STEM for Social Change

by Washington STEM
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Leveraging STEM for Social Change
Leveraging STEM for Social Change
Leveraging STEM for Social Change

It's official: 2022 was a milestone year for science. From the stunning images captured by the James Webb Telescope, to the much-awaited Artemis journey around the moon, to the recent discovery of nuclear fission as a potential source of clean energy (!), humanity has made major strides in 2022.

Here at Washington STEM we are proud to connect the next generation of STEM leaders to the education and training they will need to build on these latest scientific advancements. Read about our five top moments (in no particular order) of 2022.

1) Dual credit legislation passed!

A big moment in 2022 was the passage of Dual Credit legislation to support courses and programs that help high school students take college level courses. This prepares them for higher education AND saves money. But our research showed that schools had little information about who was taking these courses—and who was not. This new legislation requires schools to track and report on students’ geographical location, income level, race, gender and other factors. This broader data will empower schools to help students overcome barriers to postsecondary college and career goals. Read more about Washington STEM’s upcoming 2023 legislative priorities.

2) New ways to cultivate young math lovers

Story Time STEAM in Action / en Acción is a new project (inspired by Story Time STEM). It is designed to foster authentic, community-centered, shared reading experiences that encourage young readers to explore STEAM* concepts during story time. This community-led project reflects the opportunity for Black, Indigenous and Latinx librarians to co-design story time with their culture, their language and their community-based values at the forefront. This representation provides an opportunity for families, caregivers, educators and children to be recognized as knowledge holders and an integral part of co-designing story time experiences.

Dr. Sabine Thomas is Director of Central Puget Sound and is leading this project. “We hope that through the magic of story telling, Story Time STEAM in Action / en Acción illuminates the minds of our young Black and Brown scholars and fosters their identity as scientists and mathematicians,” she said.

3) New study reveals postsecondary aspirations

2022 saw the culmination of a three-year project at WA STEM that looked at student enrollment in dual credit courses, student aspirations for after high school as well as teachers’ and administrators’ perceptions. The report, High School to Postsecondary: Improving Outcomes through Inclusive School-based Inquiry, was released in November and is the jumping off point for expanding this research into 23 more schools across the state in the coming year. We are excited about how this research can improve access to postsecondary opportunities for students of color, girls and students in rural areas and those experiencing poverty.

4) Rising Stars shine bright at Summit

As their names rang out in the crowded banquet hall, eleven high school students–our 2022 Rising Star awardees–rose to their feet. Each of these young women journeyed from around the state to tour Microsoft’s campus in Redmond and be recognized at our Summit luncheon. This moment of recognition – parents beaming with pride, the entire room swelling with applause – was certainly well-earned. These young women have worked hard to pursue their passions in STEM!

Take Christine Zhang, who is developing a plan to bring computer science education to the entire Olympia School District. And then there’s Estefany Pelayo-Mata, who is leading the charge to boost Latinx representation in Yakima-area bone marrow registries. And when the pandemic side-lined her school’s competitive robotics season, Eliza Dawley and her teammates pivoted to teaching kids in the Spokane area how to code. Taken in aggregate, these young women are math enthusiastscitizen scientists, and active community members. We’re so proud of them – and so excited to see what they will accomplish! Read more about what it takes to succeed as a Rising Star.

5) Family Friendly Workplace gains momentum

WA STEM knows that preparation for school and life starts early and relies on having access to quality child care. But even before the pandemic, finding it was a problem: in 2019, nearly half of all parents in Washington were kept out of the workforce because of child care issues. And since then, 16% of providers have closed, often because of workforce issues, which costs the state billions in economic growth.

WA STEM works on the systems-level, which means looking at root causes and working across sectors to find solutions. In 2022, together in partnership with the Department of Commerce, we met with child care advocates and employers across the state. What they told us about policies and solutions will shape our new Family Friendly Workplace campaign in 2023. Spoiler Alert: in addition to more flexible leave and work schedules, new business partnerships with childcare providers are needed, as well as significant investment in the child care workforce.

Stay tuned for more in 2023 as we develop new and innovative solutions to support equitable access to STEM education, quality early learning, and education beyond high school for students across Washington.

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Regional Network partners offer local voices
Regional Network partners offer local voices

Our education systems involve a wide range of stakeholders, which means that systems-level change can't happen without teamwork and coordinated efforts between the businesses, individuals, organiztions, and programs involved. In support of our work to leverage STEM education to create social change, Washington STEM builds Partnerships and relationships that can create lasting, collective impact.


Washington state ranks among the top states in the nation in the concentration of STEM jobs, and opportunities are increasing rapidly. By 2030, more than 70% of high-demand, family-wage jobs available in our state will require postsecondary credentials, or education beyond high school, in the form of a two- or four-year degree or certificate. Of those desirable jobs, 68% will require STEM credentials or STEM literacy.

But our systems have not equitably or adequately prepared Washington students to take advantage of these opportunities. Today, only about 40% of all students are on track to obtain a postsecondary credential. Furthermore, students of color, rural students, girls and young women, and students experiencing poverty still lack access to these career pathways—they face disparities early on and fall further behind as they move through the education system.

In our state, STEM is at the forefront of discovery, has made its way into nearly every employment sector, and serves as one of the largest pathways to family-wage careers and economic mobility and stability. STEM pathways have promise like few others in Washington and it’s imperative that students who have historically faced barriers, or been excluded, have equal opportunity to benefit from the transformational possibilities that STEM has to offer.

Washington STEM is focused on making systems fair and just, equitable all along the educational continuum. On the younger side of the spectrum, these systems help Washington’s littlest learners access early math skills and high-quality early learning and care. On the other end of the continuum, these systems inform and engage students around college-bound pathways, financial aid, and postsecondary prep. We look at things like processes that decide who has access, how resources are allocated, and how information and knowledge is shared, and we identify and work to remove barriers that underserved and historically excluded populations face. By making systems level change, we’re able to support current students as well as future generations of students.


Working in partnership with others is critical to engaging in effective, community-centered, equitable systems change. Washington STEM forges partnerships that focus on addressing systemic issues first and foremost—issues that go beyond programming—and aim to address the barriers that limit and skew participation. These mutually beneficial partnerships focus on driving outcomes for priority populations: rural students, students of color, girls and young women, and those experiencing poverty. It is through building these relationships that we are collectively able to identify what’s working, as well as barriers in the system, opportunities for creating and scaling effective local solutions, and effective ways to measure our collective impact.


In order to go anywhere or design anything, we need a baseline. Are there opportunities to increase participation? Who’s being served? Who’s not being served? What are the issues we’re aiming to solve? What are we trying to improve? This is where quantitative and qualitative data come into play. Quantitative data helps provide a high-level picture of what’s going on—things like the number of students served, demographics, graduation rates, labor sector needs, and the current pipeline of those pursuing degrees across a variety of sectors. Washington STEM partners with state agencies like the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), and the Washington Employment Security Department on obtaining and using statewide data. Data sharing agreements with agencies and institutions help provide Washington STEM with information that we can use to translate into publicly available, free resources for the community. You can explore one of our data tools here. Data can help identify systemic barriers in the system, indicate solutions, and measure progress and change over time. Yet, these data alone do not provide the whole picture.

In order to make improvements to part of a system, qualitative data is also key—it helps provide the more complex and nuanced contours to the numeric data by informing the numbers with lived experience through engaging with a community. When numbers are ground-truthed in the communities we’re seeking to serve, effective solutions can be identified. A good example of this approach is a collaborative project in Yakima in which we partnered with Eisenhower High School, OSPI, students, and their families to assess student access to college and career readiness opportunities. Quantitative data told us that there were disparities in which students were earning college credit in high school. Further exploration using both quantitative and qualitative data helped us understand that one underlying challenge was that students and teachers had different ideas about what students aspired to and who they relied on for guidance. You can read more about this dual credit focused project here.


Key to making the data actionable is looking at it through the eyes of people living in the community the data intends to reflect. One of Washington STEM’s most significant community engagement partnerships is our relationship with our 10 regional STEM Network partners. STEM Networks work to inform and lead local work. They operate independently across Washington state, collectively serving 1M+ students and working in very close coordination and alignment with Washington STEM. Washington STEM serves in a leadership capacity, convening Network leaders several times each year to surface opportunities and systemic issues or challenges. We also work collectively to identify shared goals and strategies, build internal capacity, co-create scalable solutions, and share and spread best practices and creative approaches. 

It is in partnership with these critical Networks that we are able to design and implement effective strategies that help create greater access to things like STEM skills, college and career readiness opportunities and pathways, and financial aid. Our Network Partners have their fingers on the pulse in their communities and work to engage local business and education leaders, elected officials, other nonprofit organizations, and community members.

In addition to the 10 regional STEM Networks, we also work in close partnership with Career Connect Washington, a Governor-appointed collective creating work-based and academic programs for young people to explore, learn, and earn money or college level credit. And, when there are strategically- aligned opportunities, we also engage in partnerships with educational institutions like the University of Washington and Washington State University, the community college system, and central Puget Sound-based organizations working in education and STEM.


From the beginning to end, partnership is a critical strategy for our work, enabling the collective to authentically engage communities, identify effective localized solutions, and see them through in order to make lasting, equitable change for generations of students in the state of Washington. Learn more about how we're leveraging partnerships to build a better Washington in our blog.


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Working together to build equitable career paths
Working together to build equitable career paths

One of Washington STEM’s central goals is to develop an equitable system for postsecondary credential attainment for Washingtonians, especially for students of color, young women, students from low-income households, and students living in rural areas. But how exactly does systems change happen?

Systems change happens through partnership, collaboration, and action across a wide set of partners at the state, regional, and local levels. It takes collaborators across education, community, business, and government to make big change possible. Career Connect Washington (CCW) is a good example of systems change in action. CCW is a statewide network of partners positioned to create rich, career-connected learning experiences for students in every corner of Washington.


Having spent several years developing a regional network system and a career-connected learning continuum, Washington STEM, in partnership with the State Workforce Board, was eager to host Governor Jay Inslee’s 2017 Career Connected Learning Summit. At the event, we shared our collective vision for career-connected learning and highlighted 21 programs from the Washington STEM-led Learning Lab research project. This showcased both the immense interest in career-connected learning throughout the state and across sectors and also pointed to some of the challenges we are tackling.

With so many companies, public agencies, and nonprofits involved, there needed to be a stronger organizing force – to build the foundation and expand in an equitable manner. Later that year, Governor Inslee invited Washington education and workforce leaders to Switzerland to see what a model youth apprenticeship system looks like and to explore how that system could be adapted for Washington students and employers. It was a formative experience for participants and influenced our collective work to create educational and career opportunities that include certificates and apprenticeships, along with 2-year and 4-year degrees. Inslee then appointed Maud Daudon to lead this coalition, which has now built hundreds of programs and supported networks throughout the state to power CCW.

In the following two years, Washington STEM, our STEM Network partners, educators, business leaders, and community members continued to advocate for Career Connect Washington (CCW) as a state-funded system that would invest in training for Washington students for Washington jobs. This led to the successful passage of legislation (HB 2158), which officially established CCW as a systemic approach to creating meaningful, high-quality educational experiences that lead to family-wage jobs for Washington students through a state-wide system of CCW regional networks.


Career Connect Washington (CCW) continues to evolve as a statewide systemic movement supported by state resources and agencies, regional Networks, labor, employers, K-12 and higher education, and community-based organizations. CCW’s 10-year vision anticipates that every young adult in Washington will have multiple pathways toward economic self-sufficiency and fulfilment, strengthened by a comprehensive state-wide system for career connected learning. Washington STEM has been a close partner for each step of CCW’s development – from sitting on the statewide team, designing data and measurement efforts, and supporting the CCW Networks & program developers, to developing and implementing equity strategies.


Washington STEM has helped to shape and design Career Connect Washington (CCW), and our role will likely continue to grow. We are confident that CCW’s emerging focus on communities and students furthest from opportunity is the right direction for the initiative; it’s the reason that we are committed to being a big part of this ecosystem.

In addition to the work we have done since CCW’s inception, Washington STEM continues to play a significant role in the statewide initiative today. We believe that CCW is one of the best ways to support students on a path to economic security, and it offers employers a way to meet their growing talent needs.

The goals and strategies of CCW are well-aligned with Washington STEM’s, particularly as CCW refines their focus on students furthest from educational justice. Today, our organization remains heavily involved through a variety of functions.


  • Washington STEM staff sit on the Career Connect Washington Statewide Team, which guides the development of overall strategies, state policies, and outcome measurements.
  • Washington STEM leads the development and integration of an equity focus to authentically engage communities of color in the initiative.
  • Washington STEM provides partnership support to nine Regional Career Connect Washington Networks which overlap with STEM Networks.
  • We provide partnership support to Program Intermediaries who are developing and scaling regional industry focused career connected learning programs.
  • Washington STEM leads the data and measurement aspects of Career Connect Washington, working to ensure that the initiative is designed to serve priority populations, and that it prioritizes career pathways in growing and high demand sectors both regionally and statewide.

To learn more about Washington STEM’s work with Career Connect Washington and other programs, visit our Career Pathways landing page. Or visit the Career Connect Washington website to explore the many career-connected learning opportunities available to Washington’s students.

Investigating youth apprenticeship programs
Investigating youth apprenticeship programs


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Demand for Healthcare Workers in WA
Demand for Healthcare Workers in WA

In-demand healthcare careers give students great opportunities for family-sustaining wages. They also offer the potential to drive impact individually and across communities & the world. We're working with Kaiser Permanente and other partners to ensure all students have access to education pathways that lead to these jobs.

The last two years have shone a bright light on the critical need for robust healthcare infrastructure and equitable access to healthcare. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the country was experiencing a nursing shortage—Washington state included—according to the Washington State Nurses Association. Couple that with the nearly constant demand for healthcare professionals as our community cares for those during COVID-19, and we are looking at a workforce sector that is short-staffed, exhausted, and still in high demand.

According to the Washington STEM Labor Market and Credential Data Dashboard, there are approximately 8,000 in-demand family-wage healthcare jobs and, in our state, there are not enough qualified people to fill these jobs. Not only is there abundant economic opportunity in the healthcare field here in Washington, but there are many different pathways to those family-wage jobs. Two- and four-year degrees, along with certifications and apprenticeships can all lead to family-wage, STEM careers in a variety of healthcare contexts.

Creating Positive Impact Trhough STEM and Healthcare Careers

The economic opportunity in STEM and healthcare is clear, but beyond the numbers, Washington students have the opportunity to pursue the kinds of careers that can truly create impact in their communities, and across the world. Jobs range from medical assistants, phlebotomists, respiratory therapists, and registered nurses, to family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and more. Many of the jobs can be found through small and large employers across Washington.

Among those top employers, Kaiser Permanente of Washington sees hundreds of job openings a year in these careers. “The healthcare industry relies heavily on a workforce replete with STEM skills. Basic math and science skills are necessary for many positions, and advanced skills in those areas are imperative for those pursuing careers in the medical field,” said Jocelynne McAdory, Vice President of Human Resources for Kaiser Permanente Washington. These kinds of jobs can help students have a direct impact on the communities they are from and can provide the essential services that families across Washington need to live full, healthy lives.

Driving Equity in Healthcare Careers Through Partnership

With so much opportunity available to students in Washington, we must ask, is this opportunity distributed equitably among our students? The data says no. According to the U.S. Department of Education and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, in 2019 there were a total of 16,344 healthcare degrees or certificates awarded in Washington, but of those degrees Hispanic and Black students only received 2,951 of those credentials, compared to the 8,885 credentials earned by their white counterparts. This is where Washington STEM and our partners like Kaiser Permanente come in. Together, we’re helping change our education and healthcare systems so that students of color, rural students, and students from low-income backgrounds can access the jobs we’ve been highlighting. For example, Washington STEM has been partnering with Kaiser Permanente in the development of their POC Health Careers Ecosystems – a program specifically meant to create a pipeline for students of color working on advanced medical degrees to access leadership positions in the healthcare space.

Read more of the original article HERE.

Healthcare Certifications in WA
Healthcare Certifications in WA


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Student quote about dual credit
Student quote about dual credit

This summer, Washington STEM partnered with Eisenhower High School and OSPI to create a scalable approach to improving equity in dual credit programs.

What is Dual Credit?

Dual credit courses provide students with opportunities to earn high school and college credit at the same time. They can be course or exam based and there are a wide variety of options available.

Why Focus on Dual Credit?

Participation in dual credit programs is beneficial because it often reduces the time and money needed to complete a 2-year or 4-year degree. Dual credit programs can also help students build a college-going identity & confidence, and they are associated with a higher likelihood of enrolling in post-secondary education. But available statewide data show that enrollment in dual credit courses is not equitable along lines of race, income, gender, or geography.

By 2030, 70% of high-demand, family-wage jobs in Washington will require postsecondary degree credentials, so it’s vitally important that we support and improve credential attainment, particularly for Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, and low-income students. Dual credit is a key lever we can push to reach our goals to ensure Washington students are career- and future-ready.

Improving Equity

Determined to better support their students, the administration at Eisenhower High School and Washington STEM dug deep into the course-taking data to understand student outcomes in relation to dual credit course participation. The data analysis revealed equity gaps—underrepresentation of student populations in various types of dual credit courses.

But both the administration and the research team knew that the data alone didn’t tell the full story. Through a series of interviews, with both students and staff, the team leveraged student and educator experiences to gain new insights into current dual credit programs and how to improve them.

Educator and Student Takeaways:

  • Teaching staff (not counselors) are the primary source for information about dual credit. But 50% of teachers say they are not comfortable providing guidance on dual credit. They need support.
  • Older students and peers are also a significant source (one that should be leveraged) of student information about dual credit.
  • Students want their families to have more information about dual credit and post-secondary education options.
  • Meaningful, reciprocal relationships between teachers and students, with interactions built on trust and respect, can improve student engagement.

Planning for the Future

With data and perspectives in hand, Eisenhower High School built a plan to change problematic patterns in student access, enrollment, and transcription of dual credit. Beginning in fall of 2021:

  • 11th and 12th graders will lead student panels on their dual credit experiences for 9th and 10th graders.
  • College and career staff will lead school-wide professional development sessions about dual credit to increase teachers’ capacity to advise and guide students.
  • To support he Eisenhower team will support other high schools in the district to conduct similar dual credit inquiries and improve postsecondary outcomes.

Washington STEM's Continuing Work

As for Washington STEM, we’re developing an Equitable Dual Credit Toolkit in partnership with Eisenhower staff and our partners at OSPI. This toolkit is designed to help practitioners dig into dual credit. We’re also developing a strategy, and corresponding technical support, to help us build capacity with our partners to help other schools build equity across dual credit programs statewide. Given our relationships with STEM networks, the WSAC-led Dual Credit Task Force, and state agencies, we see an opportunity to leverage this work to advocate for statewide policies that increase equitable access, enrollment, and completion of dual credit—getting to the heart of what Washington STEM cares about: systems change.


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Organization Information

Washington STEM

Location: Seattle, WA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @washingtonstem
Project Leader:
Laura Peckyno
Seattle, WA United States
$11,095 raised of $50,000 goal
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