Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY — In a building on the south end of the Salt Lake Community College Jordan Campus, students stream in and out eager to learn. Most of them are fresh off a school bus, shipping them from one of the many high schools in the area.
The young men and women head inside to a number of classrooms that are state of the art: College-level engineering, chemistry, computer science and math classrooms are familiar to dozens of 17 and 18 year olds.
These are classrooms that are part of both the STEM and CTE curriculums (Science Engineering Technology and Math/ Career Training Education).
The programs are a pilot program of sorts, getting just a fraction of the massive public education funding the state provides to school districts every year. In 2014, $10 million has been dedicated to STEM. A request calls for more than $23 million this year, but there will be serious debate about whether to invest the money, or simply provide a traditional increase in the Weighted Pupil Unit by approximately 2 percent.
There’s no question for any of the students or instructors at these classrooms that an even higher investment than requested would be worth it. Justin Trujillo, for example, attends there to be part of an engineering lab after attending classes at Copper Hills High school part time.
“I really like being here a lot more than my high school,” Trujillo said.
Trujillo confers with his classmates on creating an electronic program that runs rudimentary tasks on a makeshift device — Lego-like Fisher Techic kits.
The students thrive in the lab. They confer on their individual projects together, and Trujillo offers help on a program to run a pair of classmates device. As a high school student, it’s a professional setting.
“It’s a lot more like what an engineering job would be,” Trujillo said. “If you don’t know how to do something, you go to someone else, and our teacher would be like our manager or something.”
That teacher, engineer Mike Smoot, said he sees beyond this day, week, month and school year.
“The use of the hands-on is applied in what they learned through their lectures and their textbook,” Smoot said.
He believes more state money would be worth it.
“I think it’s something we need to do," he said. "As a result, as a state and a nation we would actually be stronger down the road."
Upstairs, students are in an operating-room setting, working with deliberate urgency. They’re getting a head start on a medical career. In full scrubs, including mask, student Ryan Smith said, “I’m hopefully going to med school and then become a surgeon. So this is my step in the door of medicine.”
He has a good chance of being right. Instructor Greg Maughan said many of his previous students are working as full surgery room techs at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, St. Mark’s Hospital, and Intermountain Medical Center.
“Whether they go to nursing, whether they go to physician assistant school, whether they become a surgeon, they’re going to have that leg up because they have advanced knowledge as an 18 year old,” Maughan said. “It puts them way ahead of anyone else.”
But right now, it’s not known if STEM and CTE funding will be increased to include more students. Right now, it’s a competitive environment. Students have to test into the program.
Orem Republican Representative Val Peterson has one of two bills requesting enough money to expand the programs.
“One of the things we’re continually working on is educating people about STEM and what it means to our economy and the businesses we have here,” Peterson said.