UW a leader in supporting Washingtons STEM students

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Scholar Solomon Muche is studying bioengineering at the UW.Washington State Opportunity Scholarship

In an effort to grow the pipeline of Washington students who will graduate and enter high-demand STEM and health care fields, a public-private partnership was initiated in 2011 to support low- and middle-income students as they earn their bachelor’s degrees and enter the workforce.

Now serving its sixth cohort of students, the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship has helped more than 8,400 students attend the state’s universities and colleges. The University of Washington has the largest number of scholarship recipients — 1,426 — and has seen more than 1,100 scholarship students graduate, also the largest number among the state’s higher-education institutions.

Additionally, UW Bothell has enrolled 132 scholarship students and UW Tacoma has enrolled 121 students over the program’s six years. In total, 1,679 students receiving the scholarship have attended the UW across all three campuses.

The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship represents a deep and abiding commitment by our state to high-quality education resolutions for all of our students, with needed attention to those from low- and middle-income backgrounds,” said Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs at the UW. “With the help of clear and dependable opportunities for STEM training, we increase the likelihood that we will generate opportunities for promising young scholars who are supported by an innovative environment that has become a hallmark of the state of Washington.”

The demographics of this year’s scholarship cohort reflect the growing diversity of the state as well as the UW’s commitment to diversity and access. According to the program’s annual report to the legislature this month, 72 percent are first-generation college students, 73 percent are students of color and 60 percent of new scholars are female. This year’s 1,751 scholars come from 38 of Washington’s 39 counties.

Scholars Diana Algomeda-Villada, left, and Wilder Garcia are students at UW Tacoma.Washington State Opportunity Scholarship

As outlined in a recent Microsoft story, the scholarship program is unique for its public-private partnership design. Under the program, the state matches private donations dollar-for-dollar. By the end of this current school year, students will have received more than $50 million in scholarships. Microsoft is one of the founding partners of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, and a number of local companies and private contributions also support the program.

The need for graduates in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health care fields is only increasing. A recent TechAlliance report found that at current rates, the state’s colleges and universities will only be able to supply 27 percent of skilled STEM workers needed around the state by 2025.

As a result, the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship recently announced a move to serve 16,000 scholars by 2025. This program extension of four additional years also offers more support services for scholars, including industry mentorship and a peer leadership program that helps younger students learn in a small group setting.

Earlier this year, the UW College of Engineering’s Washington State Academic RedShirt (STARS) program received a $2.2 million grant from the Opportunity Expansion Fund, a related program established by the legislature to help Washington universities fund programming that supports students earning high-demand bachelor’s degrees in science, engineering, computer science or STEM education.

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