STEM4 one step closer to meeting region’s needs

“I don’t know of another city in the entire United States, maybe the world, that’s going to see the type of economic recovery out of the COVID recession that our region and right down the road on 405 here is going to see.”

These words spoken by Guy Palumbo, director of public policy at Amazon, underscored the need for STEM4, a new academic building to be shared by UW Bothell and Cascadia College when it opens in 2023. Palumbo, a former state senator who was instrumental in getting STEM4 in the capital budget, spoke to a crowd gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking on July 29.

Other speakers at the event included UW Bothell Chancellor Wolf Yeigh; Cascadia College President Eric Murray; Sen. David Frockt, vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee; and Leslie Alexandre, president and CEO of Life Science Washington.

Local graduates for local jobs

UW Bothell Chancellor Wolf Yeigh

Yeigh began his remarks noting that the occasion marked the next chapter of workforce development in the region. “Soon, companies in the Biomedical Device Innovation Partnership Zone near our campus will be able to employ even more UW Bothell and Cascadia students who are diverse in composition and also well prepared in their studies.”

Thousands of STEM jobs are available now and more are coming. Referencing Amazon’s need for computer science graduates, Palumbo pointed out that the state of Washington currently has more than 24,000 computer science-related job openings, with projections by Washington STEM that the need will more than double by 2028.

Guy Palumbo

He cited a 2019 statistic that ranked Washington third nationally — behind Florida and Texas — for the number of computer science graduates brought into the state to fill the need, in essence importing four times as many employees who graduate in the field statewide.

“That’s a structural problem that we have to fix,” he said, “and that’s why buildings like this and this type of effort are so important.”

Surrounded by innovators

Leslie Alexandre

According to Alexandre, most people don’t realize that within just a few miles of the UW Bothell and Cascadia College campus, there are hundreds of life science companies. They comprise a diverse mix, including several of the state’s largest biotechnology and medical device employers.

Some are at the forefront of addressing COVID-19 by manufacturing vaccines and producing next-generation respirators to help diagnose and treat patients. Others are inventing new devices using the power of artificial intelligence and machine-learning combined with biological sciences, and producing hand-held ultrasound machines. “Among industry insiders,” she said, “Bothell has been known as the ‘ultrasound capital’ for decades.

“The future is bright, but only if we can supply the talent needed to sustain the growth of our local companies,” Alexandre said. “This facility is going to dramatically increase the pipeline of four-year STEM grads in the region and provide local students with the skills necessary to become part of our region’s exciting life science industry.”

A gem of a partnership

Sen. David Frockt

At the state level, there is a commitment to supplying talent for all industries. Frockt said one of the hallmarks of the last decade of funding in the Legislature is the re-investment in the state’s higher education system because “we know there are jobs, and there are kids who have the capability — and we want to get them trained up and give them the best chance.

“Just this last year, we invested another billion in capital buildings for both the four-year higher education system and the community college system,” he said. “A billion dollars out of a $6 billion capital budget is a really significant investment.”

With new research, teaching spaces and faculty hires, UW Bothell and Cascadia College will be able to increase the number of graduates prepared for high-demand jobs in aerospace, computer and life sciences, manufacturing and more.

Cascadia College President Eric Murray

STEM4 will also be a model of interdisciplinary and collaborative learning that will not only advance STEM studies but also foster cross-fertilization of ideas. “It is my hope that this building will serve to inspire our passions while adding to our knowledge about the sciences, technologies, engineering, mathematics — and yes, the arts and humanities — that will allow us to take bigger and greater steps toward safeguarding this planet and all of its inhabitants,” Murray said.

Frockt lauded the two institutions: “I want everybody to know that the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College are two of the crown jewels in the higher education system in our state.”

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