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Plenty of people want to be geologists and engineers as kids, but how can San Antonio leaders keep them interested in such professions through middle and high school and onto college? How can their success in those fields attract new business to the city?
Members of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce joined Mayor Ivy Taylor at City Hall Wednesday morning to announce the beginning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Week in San Antonio Nov. 15-22, which will feature events at universities designed to attract middle and high school students to high-tech fields.
“We are celebrating the power of learning and the trajectory that it will create for the San Antonio community,” Taylor said. “STEM skills will take our students far in life. Many of the high-paying jobs require these skills.”
The signature event of the week is the CORE4 STEM Expo, scheduled for Nov. 15, 18, and 19 at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Main Campus and at San Antonio College.
This is the fifth year for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to host the core STEM conference in San Antonio. It is expected to bring together more than 3,500 middle school students from five inner-city school districts to participate in family-friendly events and interest them in pursuing careers in STEM fields.
Technology jobs are being created rapidly in San Antonio and the Chamber of Commerce wants to build the density of skills in San Antonians to fill those positions, said Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the SAHCC.
“We want kids to know it’s fun to be a scientist, engineer, or computer programmer – that their video game has an application,” he said. “The STEM focus is important because that is also where the higher-paying jobs exist. With the majority of San Antonio being Hispanic, it is important to keep the pipeline filled with young people. Many San Antonio companies need workers who are trained in these fields, and in addition, many companies won’t move here or will move elsewhere unless we can attract them, so the STEM focus is important to expand the needs of our workforce.”
Representatives from Tesoro, CPS Energy, Marathon Oil, and IBC Bank were on hand to emphasize how these companies are seeking new people who are qualified to work in STEM professions, and, what’s more, how a STEM education is becoming a necessity to enter the workforce.
“For San Antonio to reach our goals, we need education, government, industry, and the community working together to promote these great fields to our students,” said Cliff Zintgraff, Chair of SASTEMIC and a member of the San Antonio STEM Council, a lead partner in developing the STEM week events. “It’s great to see the community working together to highlight STEM education for our youth.”
20% of U.S. jobs require a STEM education, said Brian Sullivan, vice president of corporate affairs for Tesoro, operator of six oil refineries in the western U.S. and employer of 1,000 people at its headquarters in San Antonio.
“A refinery is a fairly complex system, requiring engineering skills and knowledge to help build and maintain it,” he said. “We are seeking pipe fitters, information technology professionals, chemists, and other high-tech positions. For us to thrive, there needs to be continued recruitment and retention of employees with a STEM education.”
Another company, Toyota, struggles to fill high-tech jobs on San Antonio’s Southside. Some positions have been available for 10 years. “There is still a gap,” said Mario Lozoya, director of government relations for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Texas.
Rudy Garza, vice president of CPS Energy, said that one-third of public utility’s workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years.
“The only way to create a pipeline of local talent is to continue investing in a STEM education,” he said, mentioning partnerships with OCI Solar Power and Mission Solar Energy LLC to create longer-term business opportunities.
San Antonio’s universities are raising their own standards to boost student interest in STEM academics, too.
Leaders at UTSA want to join the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, and Rice University as a Tier One Institution, excelling in technological research and education. San Antonio College’s STEM-ulate Science Showcase is designed to introduce students to science fields in fun, interactive and memorable ways through the use of exhibits including an iodine clock, magnetic levitation, ferrofluid, a 3-D Karst topography puzzle, and more.
Esmeralda Castillo, a freshman at Harlandale STEM Early College High School, will earn an associate’s degree when she graduates from the school.
“I want to be a veterinarian,” she said. “With youth, it is important to tell them about growing STEM fields. We need people to build our future and make it better.”
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor speaks at the launch of STEM Week. Photo by Iris Dimmick.