Randy ShumwayWhile purchasing school supplies is a necessary part of getting a child ready for the school year, academics are obviously much more important.

Many Idaho schools are focusing on getting students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and encouraging them to go into STEM fields upon graduation.

In order to promote and raise awareness for STEM programs, Idaho formed the FIRST Idaho Coalition. FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” and is comprised of the Idaho AfterSchool Network, Boise State’s Institute for STEM & Diversity Initiatives, University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development, and a number of other organizations.

FIRST provides grants to increase access to its programs for underrepresented and underserved students in the state, and it helps communities develop new approaches to promoting STEM fields. The FIRST Idaho Coalition is planning to establish a FIRST team in every county in Idaho. The county teams will provide training, support, and funds to FIRST coaches.

Recognizing that STEM professionals are in demand, FIRST leaders work to pique students’ interest in such fields as they start choosing their own classes in junior high and high school. The more science and technology classes students have in their background, the better prepared they will be to select a related field when they are in college. FIRST is particularly focused on helping students develop problem-solving skills and other skills that will be needed in the workforce.

As students gravitate toward STEM training and employment, they will be equipped to earn better wages and contribute to the scientific community.