New STEM program creates opportunities, expands science curriculum

Curran Nielsen, Managing Editor

In today’s education and job fields, STEM has taken over as one of the leading studies pursued by students, according to ID Tech. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math and it prepares students for various careers such as those in health-related fields, finance, coding, programming, software development, and more. With so many students interested in STEM, science teacher Samantha Olsen created the school’s new STEM Distinction Program at the beginning of the school year to help students who wish to pursue a career in these fields.

Olsen said she wanted to create the STEM Distinction Program after seeing that there were many parents and students who were not aware of how STEM was implemented in the school’s curriculum.

Infographic by Curran Nielsen

“We have a ton of science electives that we offer, a lot of math classes…about 90 percent of students are taking four years of math and science even though it’s not required,” Olsen said. “So even though it’s not labeled as STEM, parents were questioning whether it actually was a STEM program [which is] why I wanted to help rebrand everything and get it more prominent because we do have a very good offering for STEM, it just wasn’t marketed as such.”

For the last two years, teachers in both the math and science departments have been working together to find more ways for their classes to collaborate according to Olsen. Last year these classes started implementing STEM projects into the curriculum, and last semester in the science classes there was a STEM project involving energy. In the future there will be more science fair type projects that will span over the course of a few weeks and be presented to the school community according to Olsen.  

The STEM Distinction Program was created to help students interested in STEM fields further their academic studies and understand the challenges that these careers might entail.

“With the STEM Distinction Program we are trying to find a way to recognize the students who are going above and beyond in STEM,” Olsen said. “So we have some students who…love math, love science, they take the AP level classes, they’re taking honors level [and] they’re excelling in all of these, hoping to be in the STEM field one day.”

Requirements for members of the STEM Distinction Program include completing at least four experiences, whether it be field trips or listening to guest speakers before graduation, in order to gain exposure to the different aspects of STEM before pursuing careers in these fields after graduating. For students who do not have the time to be able to fully commit to the program, the newly formed STEM club also poses an option to still gain exposure to the world of STEM.

“…we’re just hoping to get some of these students together to do similar activities that could either count as experiences and also just having guest speakers come in and have other STEM related experiences with each other, so people who like STEM would come together,” Olsen said.

Junior Samantha Gonzales joined the program because she wants to pursue a career in the medical field as a doctor.

“I applied for the STEM distinction program, and the STEM club [to] help make my application different from other applicants,” Gonzalez said. “I have always loved science over any other subjects, and I think it is very interesting and you can do so much in a STEM career.”

With a graduation requirement of completing least four STEM experiences, the program went on a field trip to Edwards Life Sciences in Irvine in September. Edwards is a company that is working to use modern technology to make heart valves.

“We got to see where they make the heart valves,” Olsen said. “We got to see some examples of historical heart valves, what they started out looking like, and what they look like now. We heard from some of the engineers so the process that they go through on a daily basis to either creating new valves or having new innovations come through and then also heard about the other side of things: HR, marketing, how everything kind of comes together.”

Olsen stresses that the program is welcome to all students, not just those interested in STEM careers.

“We’re trying to open it up to really anyone who really likes math and science so even if you think that you might go towards a marketing or business degree or even something humanitarian it’s a really nice way to show that you’re well rounded, especially if you’re excelling in math and science,” Olsen said. “So maybe you do really well in it but it’s boring to you so you want to challenge something else, this would be a program for you because it’s still going to show that you are excelling in math and science but that doesn’t have to necessarily be what you’re looking for in life.”