Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Career exploration funds obtained for local school districts

Thanks to the efforts of Carrie Backman, the director for the Wahkiakum Washington State University Extension Office and volunteer Ron Wright, students at Wahkiakum and Naselle/Grays River Valley School Districts will receive the benefits of a $201,951 grant from Career Connect Washington.

Career Connect is a statewide organization, Backman explained, that helps create opportunities for people in underserved or underrepresented populations.

The two applied for funding for career exploration, she said, which will provide K-12 students with a chance to learn about fields that are in high demand in our area, build an understanding of what those jobs are, and allow students to experiment and interact with those jobs to see if they like them.

These opportunities are available to all students, but the program is especially designed for students participating in robotics, which “exposes them to a wide array of computer skills and engineering skills and those soft skills, learning how to interact with a team, give presentations, how to negotiate, things like that,” Backman said.

The funding will be used to build a network of professionals who live in the region and work in the different fields in advanced manufacturing and information technology.

“We’ve actually kind of been setting it up already, before we knew we were awarded the grant,” Backman said. “We already knew this was something we wanted to start building toward, building this pipeline, particularly of students who are interested in robotics, to help them figure out and connect with jobs and college opportunities around that interest.”

Backman, Wright, and Jess Vik, who will be the 4-H liaison at Wahkiakum School District, have already been brainstorming and talking with administrators at both school districts when they learned they had received the grant in May.

“This grant came up and accelerated that and put more muscle into it,” Backman said.

They are acquiring Lego robotics kits for every NGRVSD or WSD classroom that wants one, as well as more 3-D printers. Some of the Lego kits have already been purchased and are going out to classrooms now.

Vik and her counterpart at N/GRVSD, Clarissa Colson, will set up field trips to post secondary education around these fields and different work sites like Georgia Pacific or Burkhalter’s Dairy Farm, where robotics are used, Backman said. They will also invite professionals into the classroom to talk about a variety of technological fields, to share what they do and how they got into it.

Those same professionals may also take advantage of those visits through something called a “flipped classroom,” Backman said, where they bring a challenge they are encountering at work and ask the students to help them find a solution.

“Ron [Wright] is our powerhouse,” Backman said. “He is going back and forth between Naselle and Wahkiakum. Being the curriculum lead, working with the teachers, he’s created a really neat model where he shows the older students and they show the kids.”

“This is mainly possible because of the awesome momentum that Ron and Jess and [Jeff] Rooklidge have built over the years with their work in robotics,” Backman added. “We have this really strong track record of empowering kids to find solutions for 21st century problems. This is really exciting. This [grant] helps turbo charge that work.”

Rooklidge is a science teacher at Wahkiakum High School.

The grant is funded through December 31, 2023. Backman works for WSU Extension, which takes a standard 26 percent of any grants awarded for something called a Facilities and Administration rate, which means $41,673 of the $201,951 grant will go to WSU and $160,278 will go to the program for local students.


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