Newswise — RICHLAND, Wash. – Four local leaders in advancing education for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM, are joining forces to ensure eastern Washington’s future workforce will be prepared to tackle the nation’s most complex and technical challenges.

The Mid-Columbia STEM Education Collaboratory has been formed by the following organizations to improve local education related to STEM:• Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a Department of Energy research and development laboratory in Richland, Wash.• Delta High School, a STEM high school for students in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, Wash.• Southeast Washington Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform (LASER) Alliance, a local affiliate of the statewide LASER Alliance, which aims to advance STEM education• Yakima Valley-Tri-Cities Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) Center, one of six centers statewide that aim to increase women and minority participation in STEM professions

“STEM is important in today’s science-and technology-dependent world,” said PNNL STEM Education Director Jeff Estes, who is the collaboratory’s project manager and was recently appointed to the Washington State Board of Education. “STEM helps students prepare for good-paying jobs, to be smart consumers, to be thoughtful participants in democratic decision-making, and make sense of the world around them.

“With PNNL, the Department of Energy and other science and technology institutions in eastern Washington, our region is rich in STEM expertise and careers,” Estes added. “The collaboratory will harness that to develop a local, sustainable solution to the large national challenge of improving STEM education.”

A recent Boston Consulting Group study found as many as 45,000 STEM-related jobs in Washington state are expected to go unfulfilled by 2017 because workers don’t have the required skill sets and the state will see a 24 percent increase in STEM jobs by 2018. And the National Academies have reported that business, government and academic leaders agree STEM education is crucial to improving U.S. innovation and serves as a foundation to employment.

The four co-founders have worked together to advance STEM education for years. They are forming the collaboratory to further improve STEM education in a more rapid, substantive and tangible way. The group’s overarching goal is to build a regional collaboration zone that increases community involvement in science education while also growing and accelerating the use of impactful STEM education tools.

Through the collaboratory’s efforts, students will have more opportunities in STEM education, including competitions, camps, hands-on activities and new school courses. The collaboratory will also enable local businesses to directly engage students, families and educators so their future employees will be prepared to work in STEM areas. And area educators will be able to participate in the collaboratory’s professional development offerings and collaborate with STEM professionals and businesses.

The collaboratory is starting with three pilot projects, which involve:• Improving and expanding computer science’s accessibility to everyone – for students both in and outside of school, and for teachers through professional development.• Explaining what real STEM jobs look like by creating short videos that feature local professionals describing how they work together to solve problems.• Encouraging public interest in and support for STEM education by hosting community events where students and their families learn STEM principles and apply them to real-world questions.

Battelle, the nonprofit organization that manages PNNL for the Department of Energy, has awarded the collaboratory a $50,000 grant to launch its initial projects.

Today the collaboratory will host one of its first events: ByteFest, a computer coding competition for Tri-City high school students. More than 20 students from four local high schools are competing in the day-long event in Richland.

For more information, see the collaboratory’s website at

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Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy. For more information, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.