STEM Competition Asks Students to Improve National Security

At stake are stipends for teachers, as well as cash awards and academic letters for students who make the cut for the special science teams.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is asking its high school students to take up the gauntlet as part of a statewide academic challenge that aims to answer one question: How will you use science and technology to help with national security?

Los Alamos National Laboratory came up with the question and will be partnering with teachers and numerous big-name businesses as the students use what they learn in the classroom next semester to formulate their answers.

At stake are stipends for teachers and school supplies as well as cash awards and academic letters for students who make the cut for the special science teams.

Bill McCamley, head of the state labor department, announced the challenge Friday while in Albuquerque. He said the program will incorporate new science standards adopted by the state that focus more on real-world problem-solving.

"We want to show students you're not just learning this to pass a test," he said. "If you study these things and do well, we are going to make sure that you know that you have a job waiting for you here in New Mexico."

The challenge is another tool the state hopes to use on an annual basis to build a foundation for more high-tech jobs. State officials pointed to employers such as Los Alamos lab, which has nearly 1,400 job openings.

Laboratory Director Thom Mason said Friday that the challenge resonates with Los Alamos because applying science, engineering and technology to make the world safer is something its scientists and researchers do every day.

While the question being asked of the students might sound simple, Mason said it's anything but.

"This is hands-on, it's a contact sport," he said, implying that the competition could be fierce.

Each team will be made up of 10 students. The businesses that will be reviewing their work include Chevron, Virgin Galactic, Intel, Facebook, Pattern Energy, MeowWolf and several others.

There's no right answer. The companies will be judging the responses based on the quality of the work and the degree to which the answers use skills required by the businesses.

"I think by engaging students in their educational process, making them aware of how science works and how it can solve real-world problems, we're going to be doing a much better job in the future of generating that workforce that we need," Mason said.

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