Murphy launches STEM schools grant program

Gov. Phil Murphy hopes to jump start the state’s economy by encouraging tech startups and expanding educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. Unlike other aspects of the state economy, where the governor hopes to encourage job creation, Murphy says the innovation economy jobs are already here.

“In 2015, which is the last year that we have data along these lines, reported that even though New Jersey had nearly 23,000 open jobs in computer science, we barely produced 1,100 homegrown computer science graduates to fill them,” said Murphy. “So that’s about a 21 to 1 margin of openings versus what we’ve produced.”

Murphy says across the state only one in four high schools offers Advanced Placement computer science courses. No wonder, he says, tech and science companies have looked elsewhere to put down roots.

“Number one, I’m inviting New Jersey’s public schools to apply for new grants that will allow them to start advanced computer science offerings so more students can have access to the college credits and industry credentials that the students here at Steinert do,” he said. “In addition, I’m announcing that the current Office of Educational Technology within the Department of Education will be reconstituted as the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

All good moves, if you ask the kids and teachers at Hamilton Township’s Steinert High School. But with a budget of only $2 million and slots for only 45 schools, even a reporter with limited math skills can see that’s only about $45,000 for each school.

“I think what we always think is that in the future, we can do more. This is a start, and it will focus on certain districts that really can benefit. Steinert already is one of the leaders in this, but other districts really need help too,” Sen. Linda Greenstein said.

Steinert’s award-winning robotics team is a good example of students taking advantage of a strong STEM curriculum. Senior Nikhil Kolachalama leads the club.

“The budget from year to year for our team goes upward of $25,000,” he noted, “so to have a program like this from the governor himself is very liberating for us.”

“The fact that we need women to enter this field is so important because we provide just as much as men do. And it’s just crucial to show that women can have a huge impact with this field and it’s just a huge breakthrough that needs to happen,” added robotics team member and senior Caitlyn Wahlberg.

The individual grants max out at $100,000 and the deadline for districts to apply is Oct. 25.

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