State should invest in STEM career gold rush

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In 1848 near a mill in an isolated region of California, a young man named John Marshall happened to glance down at his feet. Oddly enough, through the slight distortion of the river water he was standing in, he noticed something shiny near his toes. He bent over to pick up the object and raised it to his eyes. His heart began to race as he recognized what was a pea-sized piece of gold. Hence, in the following year, the California Gold Rush of 1849 began at Sutter’s Mill.

As I write, I wonder if we are sitting on gold here in North Carolina and standing idly by as leading technological nations such as China and Japan embrace the rising STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) economy and build vocational STEM training into their middle and high schools.

Consider the following: first, as of 2011, 26 million jobs required high levels of STEM information in at least one area of the job; second, of all the STEM jobs, nearly half do not require a bachelor’s degree; third, the average pay for these STEM jobs was $53,000; fourth, the STEM field is expanding at a breakneck pace in the areas of manufacturing, construction and health care; lastly, most STEM fields require workers in instillation, maintenance and repair.

So by this point you might be wondering, like I am wondering, why we are cutting STEM funding in our middle and high schools? You’re probably also wondering why we are not investing more in and expanding programs like our Wilson Academy of Applied Technology? Also, based on the aforementioned facts, it seems like our state could invest and expand STEM programs at our community colleges. It also seems worthwhile to begin investing in our STEM-based afterschool programs.

It is my hope that if elected in November, I will be able to put North Carolina’s educational and economical future on the path to the future.

Ken Fontenot


The writer is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church and an unaffiliated candidate for N.C. House District 24.