Southern Oregon STEM, Scholarships and Wood Products

July 18, 2014 – Submitted by: Alyssa Froman, Education Major Oregon State University

During the July 9th evening presentation hosted at SierraPine Composite Solutions, a leading manufacturer of MDF, Southern Oregon STEM member Tanya Haakinson, HR & Safety Manager for SierraPine, spoke on the growing demands today for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related jobs and candidates in our local marketplace. The attendees included human resource, safety and health executives from several local wood product companies like SierraPine, Timber Products, Boise Cascade, Murphy Plywood, Swanson and executives from community partners like The Job Council, Junior Achievement, Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon Educational Service District.  She discussed the shrinking number of high school students interested in pursuing STEM careers in our area mainly due to their lack of knowledge that these careers exist in our local job market. She honed in on the Wood Products audience by addressing their specific needs for STEM skilled candidates in industry jobs such as PLC Programmers, Electricians, Millwrights, Wood Scientists and many others to just name a few. She explained STEM job awareness is a key way to educate our youth, thus helping employers to ensure they have success in finding qualified STEM candidates. Tanya proposed an idea. How could this dedicated group of Wood Products companies invest in their future? Her answer was to create a scholarship for high school students which would help spark interest and awareness for STEM related careers found here in our valley. “By investing in our kids today,” she argued, “we will be investing in our future for tomorrow. This is a very real need in our Wood Products industry and other industries in our valley. The scholarship created by this group of companies will be generously matched dollar-for-dollar by Rogue Community College up to $5,000, creating a total scholarship base of $10,000!”

The best part of Southern Oregon STEM’s and Tanya’s plan is, the scholarship program is only the beginning. The discussion following the presentation with the Wood Product attendees was electric, engaged and purposeful –even leading to a discussion regarding what the scholarship program can evolve into in the years to come. They started generating non-monetary ideas on how our local business can become involved in the STEM student education and investment processes. Suggestions included company tours, classroom visits, career fairs, job shadowing, internships and other community involvement events. Tanya emphasized the scholarship is only the first step in having not only our local Wood Products STEM job needs addressed, but also other local industry group’s jobs like medical, advanced manufacturing, e-commerce and many others. The Wood Products scholarship is the first blush of an active program aimed at investing and improving our region’s economic future by capitalizing on local STEM talent, basically “growing our own”. Tanya closed by saying, “Southern Oregon STEM is off to a great start. We are committed and eager to see how STEM developments will help make Southern Oregon’s economy successful in the years to come.”

Companies interested in learning more about Southern Oregon STEM chapter’s mission and engagement ideas can check out their website at www.sothernoregonstem.org. To find out how your company can participate in this and other future STEM related events, please contact Tanya Haakinson. She will direct you to the right person for your company’s needs.