Jackson, Inslee address crowd at Washington STEM Summit

Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses the crowd at Tuesday
Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses the crowd at Tuesday's Washington STEM Summit.
— image credit: Andy Nystrom / Reporter

When Rev. Jesse Jackson stepped up to the podium, people leaned forward in their chairs and listened intently to his thoughts about education.

As he locked eyes with more than 320 educators and business leaders at Tuesday's third annual Washington STEM Summit 2014 at the Microsoft Conference Center, the civil rights leader recalled one of his grade-school teachers believing in her students during a rigorous math lesson.

"You must never teach down to our children and have low expectations of them," Jackson — an unannounced guest at the summit — told the crowd during the morning group session. "There's nothing that you cannot learn given the opportunity. Tell (your students) over and over again that deep water does not drown you — you drown when you stop kicking, you drown when you give up, you drown when you surrender."

Jackson was in Seattle to discuss the need for high-tech companies to employ women and minorities and added another stop to his visit by joining Gov. Jay Inslee at the summit in Redmond.

Prior to Jackson's speech, Inslee addressed the crowd about improving students' involvement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

"(Jackson) and I both support the need for more women and more children of color to enter into STEM fields. In a state as diverse as Washington, our STEM workforce has got to be as diverse, as well," Inslee said of one of his goals. He also passionately spoke of education funding and improving graduation rates with services like counseling, learning assistance programs, connecting students with mentors and internships and more.

Inslee also praised the many top-notch STEM students in Washington schools, and University of Washington computer science majors Yarelly Gomez (from the Bothell campus) and Karolina Pyszkiewicz were on hand to discuss their positive experiences in their courses. Both spoke of having confidence and tackling challenges to succeed.

Gomez is a member of the Society for Advancement of Hispanics, Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, and Pyszkiewicz is an ambassador for the National Center for Women and Information Technology, a NASA Space Grant consortium recipient and a Google ambassador.

Inslee said Washington victories include launching the STEM Education Innovation Alliance — a collaboration between businesses and educators to ensure that all students acquire STEM skills — and being the only state to receive two National Governors Association Center for Best Practices education grants.

According to the The Boston Consulting Group's report — Opportunity for All: Investing in Washington State’s STEM Education Pipeline — in order to produce major returns, investing $650 million in early childhood education, K-12 education and postsecondary education would create 8,000 STEM jobs that would generate $4.5 billion.

"About the best thing we can do in our state right now is to develop innovative talent," Inslee said.

Jackson gleaned inspiration from Inslee's speech and addressed Washington's STEM situation with words that could apply to any scenario: "We've seen that inclusion leads to growth, and with growth, everybody wins. Don't give up on dreaming, don't give up on believing. If we fall down, we get back up again — because the ground is no place for champions and so we keep rising, we keep fighting back."

Mike Town, an instructor at the Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, was impressed with both Inslee and Jackson's speeches about STEM education helping to boost the state's economy and giving everyone an equal chance to succeed in school and in life.

Along with the many breakout sessions during the day — including Addressing the Computer Science Talent Gap, Effective Teaching and Leading and more — Sen. Andy Hill and Rep. Ross Hunter discussed meeting the McCleary mandate while balancing the needs of other services, STEM education being part of the definition of basic education and improving the economic vitality of the state by investing in STEM teachers and degrees.

PHOTO: Gov. Jay Inslee. Andy Nystrom/Redmond Reporter

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