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Program focuses on science, tech, engineering and math careers

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One of the greatest challenges facing businesses is having a qualified workforce, especially as jobs have shifted from lower-skill manufacturing positions to more technical ones.

One of the areas that is talked about a lot is the need for workers with engineering backgrounds. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educations are far more important today than in the past.

Despite the growing need for STEM education, the U.S. has fallen dramatically behind in this area. The Programme for International Student Assessment ranks the U.S. 25th in science and 17th in math. Both the business and academic worlds recognize the need for enhanced STEM education.

Junior Achievement provides work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy programs to students K-12. And for years, Junior Achievement has been promoting the need to start earlier. We've championed elementary initiatives as the key. It is evident though that the business community wants efforts that have a faster connection to their immediate needs. They are looking for educational initiatives that align more closely to their workforce skills gaps.

At Junior Achievement, we are committed to being part of that solution. With the introduction of our STEM Summit program, we now have a high school program that focuses on STEM careers.

The STEM Summit's objective is to reach freshmen and sophomores to inspire them to focus the remainder of high school on being better prepared for technical skilled jobs. This daylong program is held at high schools and consists of nine 30-minute sessions that include three sets of experiments, three sets of competitions and three sets of career panel presentations. The fast pace and constant motion help create an atmosphere of excitement and energy.

More than 30 local businesspeople are involved as volunteers for the day. These individuals have a wide range of STEM careers from nuclear engineers to architects, to chemists, to technology-based positions. They work with the students in this exciting, hands-on program and give students a chance to see that science and math are cool.

Currently, four high schools have dates set for the STEM Summit for this fall. Three other districts are working on scheduling their dates. The goal is to host 10 summits this year as we ramp up our capabilities. The 10 programs will reach more than 2,500 students.

This program is provided at no charge to the schools and is underwritten by local business support of Junior Achievement. JA of South Central PA reached more than 38,000 students last year in total with our economic education programs.

For additional information on this program, call 717-843-8028 or go to

Tom Russell is president of JA of South Central PA.

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