WORTHINGTON Recent current events include an epidemic, vaccine development and distribution, computer hacking on an unprecedented scale, storms and power outages, food supply chain interruptions, many corporations readjusting their business strategies, and even promise of investment in our nation’s aging infrastructure. The timing is right to prepare yourself for careers like being an epidemiologist, lab technician, biomedical engineer, pharmacist, systems or cyber security analyst, clean energy engineer or technician, agricultural engineer, veterinarian, logistics specialist, business or financial analyst, or electrical, mechanical or civil engineer. All of these careers and many more can begin with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education at Minnesota West.

Although the catch phrase "STEM Education" has been around since the early 2000s, many people are unaware of the potential impact on teaching and learning designed with real-world applications in mind. One of the most well-rounded definitions available is from Florida’s Department of Education: STEM education is the intentional integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and their associated practices to create a student-centered learning environment in which students investigate and engineer solutions to problems, and construct evidence-based explanations of real-world phenomena…[SIC].

Some readers may be surprised to learn that Minnesota West not only has first courses in many STEM areas, but also has courses and programs which that can assist students to complete both two-year degrees locally, as well as four-year degrees at other institutions. Some Minnesota West courses advance well beyond “taking generals.." Some of these include: Human Biology, Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Genetics, Microbiology, General Chemistry I and II, Organic Chemistry I and II, JAVA Programming, Visual Basic Programming, Web Programming, General Physics I and II (Calculus based), Introduction to Engineering, Calculus I, II and II, Introduction to Ordinary Differential Equations, Linear Algebra and many others. We also have a number of technical programs that target STEM careers including: Agriculture Programs, Wind or Solar Energy Programs, Mechatronics and even a new Occupational Therapy Program.

At Minnesota West, we understand many students have responsibilities to families and existing work obligations that make it impossible for them to relocate to other communities to take classes. With face-to-face and online and blended learning opportunities, students are not required to relocate to meet their educational goals. Our recent analysis shows the average student to faculty ratio in STEM areas is 17:1 or less. While some institutions may use the courses listed above to “weed out” learners, Minnesota West can give individual attention to support learners. But let’s be realistic. Another really important factor is the price of courses and programs. When you compare, you will find Minnesota West offers a very favorable rate. In addition, many STEM areas have scholarships available, especially for underrepresented populations.

STEM careers could certainly take you across the globe. However, there is no need to move away from our region to get one of these jobs. Here's a statement from Newport Labs on STEM education: At Newport Labs, we support livestock producers and help protect the national protein supply by manufacturing custom-made vaccines, mainly for swine and cattle. A passion for science, technology and animals drives our employees. We believe that people and animals are connected in deep and complex ways, and our employees are committed to enhancing the well- being of both. Many jobs at Newport Labs require degrees in biology, microbiology, a similar scientific field, or related experience. We value those who share our passion for a STEM education and welcome candidates who are proficient or are able to become proficient operating in a laboratory setting.

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Here, as well, are examples of former students working in STEM careers locally: granular agronomy products with Arrowhead Ag Services; veterinary medicine with Hubbard Feeds; quality control with Newport Labs; production supervisor at Cambridge Labs; VP of Operations at Cambridge Labs; many positions at JBS; wind power company employees; technician at Rosenboom Machine and Tool Inc.; many ag production employees; and precision ag product employees.

More school or less, liberal arts or technical, staying close to home or moving far — Minnesota West can help you fit into a STEM career. Think of Minnesota West as a place to “Learn with Purpose” in a wide variety of two- and four-year STEM majors, as well as a wide variety of STEM technical programs. Please feel free to contact me or any of our other STEM instructors. We would be honored to be your “regional college of choice."

Michael Wesslink is a math instructor at Minnesota West.