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A Q&A on the importance of STEM, with Portland Community College’s Nereida Macias

On July 14, 2022, Cascade Systems Technology (CST) was proud to host a STEM class from Portland Community College (PCC) – in keeping with our company’s ongoing emphasis on how important STEM initiatives are to our nation’s competitiveness, to our global technology leadership, and to providing our best and brightest youngsters with rewarding careers. (See our previous blog on this topic.) What follows is a Q&A between CST’s president and CEO, Shantanu Gupta, and Nereida Macias, a PCC College Success Coach/Instructor and one of the supervising instructors from the class visit. The exchange clearly spotlights the great work our community college is doing in partnership with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce to enable STEM.

Shantanu Gupta: Nereida, it is nice to speak to you again and it was a pleasure to host your young adults at our facility back in July. Also, thanks for taking the time to elaborate on some aspects of PCC’s STEM program, following your class visit with us. My hope, and I know it’s yours as well, is that raising awareness of your program and STEM efforts like it elsewhere in the U.S. will help increase support for such efforts. So, first question, can you put things in context for our readers, by defining the scope of STEM initiatives at PCC?

Nereida Macias: At a high level, there are about 90 courses offered at PCC that map to STEM occupations as defined by the National Standard Occupational Code (SOC) Policy Committee. Each year, thousands of students enroll in these courses through PCC Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming and Lower Division Collegiate (LDC) programs.

In addition to instructional excellence, PCC supports these courses with a range of resources and facilities, including a makerspace at all PCC campuses complete with 3D printers, CNC milling machines, laser engravers, to list a few.

PCC also emphasizes and has rich opportunities for internships and other kinds of on-the-job exposure. Our summer class visit to Cascade Systems Technology’s facility is an example of that. Called CG-130 — and offered every term as part of the PCC Counseling and Guidance (CG) curriculum — this summer’s class uniquely focused on careers within microelectronics, mechatronics, machine manufacturing, electronic engineering technology, bioscience technology, welding, computer aided design and drafting, aviation maintenance technology, to list a few.

Offered in partnership with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the class was comprised of 17 recent high school graduates who enrolled from schools within Washington County. It included an in-depth overview of the equipment and tools they would likely use in their career; visits to three additional programs at our Rock Creek campus (Bioscience Technology, Welding, and Aviation Maintenance Technology); and students received virtual tours of various microelectronic and manufacturing facilities – and, thanks to your generosity — the in-person tour of CST!

Shantanu: We were happy to oblige. But, from your instructor’s perspective, why is it important for school STEM programs to engage with tech companies like ours — and to show students real-world application of STEM skills? in Printed Circuit Board manufacturing, Testing, box assemblies etc.?

Nereida: The uniqueness of this course allowed us the opportunity to introduce students to other opportunities within STEM. Oftentimes, due to the nature of our K-12 educational institutions, students are under the impression that in order to work in STEM they need to follow a traditional transfer pathway to complete a Bachelor of Science degree. However, this course provided students with real-world experiences within STEM where they learned directly from the source — local employees, employers, and CEOs like you — about the multiple pathways into the industry via a short-term degree or certificate. In many cases, students have the career or employer in mind, but are unfamiliar with the steps needed to get there. This course provided a unique opportunity for students to hear firsthand what it takes to be successful in the industry.

Shantanu: What did your students get from the tour or enjoy most? Any fun anecdotes? Epiphanies for students or instructors during the visit and the like?

Nereida: Touring CST was extremely beneficial to our students. Your staff was very friendly and approachable. Since this class primarily focused on career exploration, it was really helpful to hear the career journey of our tour guides. It definitely made getting into the field seem more approachable. It allowed our students to witness first-hand what the industry looks like on a day-to-day basis. At the beginning of class, only 3 students reported an interest in microelectronics and manufacturing. After the tour/the conclusion of class, 10 students reported an interest in microelectronics and manufacturing. Many plan to enroll in CTE programs at PCC this fall, and I believe the shift in career interest was a direct result of the tour at Cascade Systems.

Shantanu: What’s on the horizon for PCC’s STEM programming? Seminal events? Expansions? New programming? Breaking news or things to watch for?

Nereida: For one thing, PCC was recently the meeting space for a statewide press conference by the Oregon Semiconductor Competitiveness Task Force in which both local and state representatives shared the release of the “Seizing Opportunity” report. This report looks at how the State’s semiconductor industry can continue to thrive, grow and create prosperity and opportunity. (A little known fact is that the PCC microelectronics program was created in 1999 at the request of Intel. Since then, PCC has produced a steady pipeline of new technicians for the company and others within Washington County!)

Since this Q&A will be presented as a blog, I hope you won’t mind if I also include in my answer to your question some links to official PCC articles. These will explain some of our recent success more thoroughly and dramatically than I could!

Shantanu: To wrap up, what’s the best way for students, community members, or area tech companies to learn more or get involved?

Nereida: While this class primarily focused on reaching recent high school graduates, PCC offers no-cost, two-week Discover classes for students to learn more about various CTE programs PCC has to offer. Students interested in learning more about work in manufacturing, technology and/or construction and trades should look into the On-Ramp courses offered through the PCC Opportunity Centers.

Additionally, any high school student interested in learning more about these degrees and certificates or any other PCC program should consider attending PCC Preview Days this upcoming Fall/Winter. Registration opens next month!

Should community members and area tech companies want to learn more or get involved, I would encourage them to reach out directly to the program department.

Shantanu: Anything else you’d like to conclude with?

I would just add that support and interaction with local companies and employees like yours have played, and continued to play, an important role in offerings at PCC. This course offered a brief overview of the many opportunities available at PCC. Many of these programs have existed a long time and have provided meaningful education and employment opportunities for students. (A final stat PCC is very proud of: The PCC Microelectronics program in particular has a 100% job placement rate for its graduates!)

We thank those who have worked tirelessly to support and educate students and community members alike.

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