OREM — Flanked by fifth- and sixth-grade students from Orem Elementary School, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday signed into law HB150, which appropriates $20 million to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education in the state.
The ceremonial event, held at Utah Valley University, marked a major investment in Utah's STEM Action Center, created in 2012 to coordinate STEM programming in the state and provide training for Utah's science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers.
Herbert began the event by visiting with the Orem students, who demonstrated a robotic simulation to the governor. He remarked that his day had been filled with examples of innovative learning, including the opening of the Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point and a career and college readiness event in Park City.
"I can see we’re preparing the workforce of tomorrow today," Herbert said.
HB150 was approved by unanimous votes in both the Utah House and Senate and included more than 40 co-sponsors. The bill creates a number of STEM initiatives, including an endorsement and initiative program to provide training for Utah's science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers.
Herbert said taxpayer dollars are finite and must be responsibly prioritized. But he added that investing in education is a key component to maintaining a healthy and growing state economy.
My focus is on economic development, but we also understand that long-term economic growth can only be sustained if we have an educated labor force that has the skills that are demanded in the marketplace.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
"My focus is on economic development, but we also understand that long-term economic growth can only be sustained if we have an educated labor force that has the skills that are demanded in the marketplace," the governor said.
Science and technology have the potential to improve lives, Herbert said, but the needs of employers to fill STEM jobs has been insufficiently met.
"We’re having to import engineers into Utah," he said. "In fact, we’re having to import engineers from outside the country into America, and that ought not to be."
UVU President Matthew Holland described HB150 and Herbert's continued focus on STEM education as "near and dear to the heart of Utah Valley University." Holland said educators recognize there is a demand for workers with STEM-related skills and higher education is working to respond to those market needs.
"We need students who are interested and prepared for it by the time they come to college," he said.
Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, who sponsored HB150 and is also UVU's vice president of finance and administration, said an investment in STEM education is necessary to prepare Utahns for careers in an increasingly global economy.
"You don’t just compete against Utah County or Utah or even the United States," he said. "This is a global environment that we find ourselves (in)."
Peterson said that when the STEM Action Center was created, some lawmakers expressed skepticism that the program would yield results. But he added that the success of the center during its first year in promoting STEM education helped secure the support of his colleagues in the Legislature and clear the way for HB150 and its $20 million appropriation.
Recently, the action center has partnered with the Department of Workforce Services and the Utah State Office of Education to offer $6 million in grants to help Utah schools create and enhance STEM programming.
"This is a great thing that we have going," Peterson said. "This is what we need to do so that we continue to be the economic force that this state has been."