Local Treasures with Pia: Science and Engineering Fairs connect Idaho students to STEM careers

Boise, Idaho – The Idaho STEM Action Center is a huge program that sorts under the Governor’s office. It was started in 2015 by forward thinking businesspeople and legislators, who realized the need for STEM educated students was growing exponentially.

“They realized that we need these skills in Idaho to feed the workforce pipeline,” said Joanna Madden, Development Director for the Idaho STEM Action Center Foundation. “Micron is a great example of a tech company that started here in Boise, and is now one of the largest in the world.”

One of the programs operated by the Idaho STEM Action Center is the Idaho Science and Engineering Fairs – known as IDSEF. The fairs, which recently received a grant from the Avista Foundation, let Idaho students present their own research and projects in competition.

“Students get to show off their amazing research and they are judged by industry professionals,” Madden said. “One goal by having professionals judge the contest is mentorship component. Students get to connect with someone who actually works in the area they are interested in and that creates a new pathway for them.”

This is especially true of students from rural schools. Madden said Idaho STEM focuses on providing better STEM education to students in outlying areas, where smaller schools may struggle acquiring access to new technology.

“We reach about 45,000 Idaho students each year, and we try to identify gaps in STEM learning and make that happen,” Madden said. “We promote robotics programs together with other organizations and we try to have programming that connect the students to the material they really need.”

IDSEF feeds into three regional science competitions where students present their own research projects and are judged by industry professionals. Topics range from biology and biomedical research to earth science and engineering, computer science and physical sciences.

The fairs also allow students to connect with the professional judges who work in the field the student is interested in.

“That is really a special connection,” Madden said. “A rural student may never have met a professional in their area of research.”

At Avista, we recognize our unique position gives us the chance to contribute in an impactful way and make a real difference in people's lives. Since 2002, the Avista Foundation has made grants totaling over $13 million to organizations that support vulnerable and limited income populations, education, and economic and cultural vitality. For more information on grant applications and geographical areas covered, please visit avistafoundation.com.

Idaho STEM Action Center and Idaho Science and Engineering Fairs (IDSEF) are always looking for STEM professionals to serve as judges at the fairs and mentors for students. Visit stem.idaho.gov to learn more about all the STEM programs hosted there, and how to become involved.

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