Bridging the classroom & the workplace with STEM

How bringing teachers out of the classroom can help them to bring STEM into the classroom

STEM graphic
Vickei Hrdina and Pranjali Upadhyay

Despite a strong labor market, it’s not breaking news to report that Southwest Washington – like many regions across the nation – is dealing with a skills gap. Employers from numerous industries (especially those that are STEM-related such as technology, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and the trades) often find it difficult to attract workers with the skills and experience required to fill existing jobs. In response to this ongoing challenge, ESD 112 has fostered an innovative program that brings educators and industry together in a new way, with the end goal of preparing the workforce of tomorrow.

The nPower Teachers program is a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher externship that partners with local businesses to learn from professionals about the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their industry. The program immerses teachers in an authentic STEM experience as they visit businesses in the morning and spend the afternoon developing career-connected classroom activities to engage their students in STEM and career awareness.

Just days ago, our program partnered with Vancouver-based McKay Sposito, bringing 25 teachers to the firm to interact with land surveyors, civil engineers and other construction industry professions. These professionals were able to bring to light some of the company’s current projects as well as the tools and soft skills (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication, etc.) that are critical to their daily work. Teachers left their site visit with concrete examples of how to teach these essential concepts with a local, authentic context. In December, teachers will visit Silicon Forrest in Vancouver to learn about real problems in the electronics manufacturing industry and how some of these problems can be brought into the classroom for students to tinker with.

These mini-immersion experiences represent a growing list of teacher and local business engagement
opportunities that go far beyond the traditional “guest speaker” model of career awareness. nPower Teachers is the only program of its kind that directly partners teachers with the business community to take direct input on the problems they face in the workplace every day. In 2020, our group of empowered teachers plans to visit a pet hospital, a winemaking facility and Clark Public Utilities.

By providing realistic examples of how to enter a career field that may not be typically considered, ESD 112’s nPower Teachers also helps educators support students who are already traditionally underrepresented in STEM such as girls, English language learners (ELLs), students of color, gifted/highly capable students, special education students, alternative education students and students living in poverty.

Now, more than ever, students need clarity on the careers that are available to them and inspiration to pursue those jobs – not just from their teachers, but also from the business community. By connecting with industry partners, educators can develop classroom experiences based on authentic problems from disciplines right outside their doors that truly demystify the ‘when will I ever need this?’ question for students.

Now is the time and Southwest Washington is the place. We are always looking for new businesses to partner with on our projects and would be happy to connect with anyone who is interested in helping to bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace.

Vickei Hrdina is Director of STEM and Career Connected Learning Initiatives at ESD 112 and Pranjali Upadhyay is an Integrated Curriculum Specialist at ESD 112. Hrdina can be reached at Upadhyay can be reached at

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