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Rural Students in Washington State: STEM as a Strategy for Building Rigor, Postsecondary Aspirations, and Relevant Career Opportunities

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues in International Education, Vol. 90, No. 2

Barbara Peterson, Greta Bornemann, Cheryl Lydon, & Kimberly West – University of Washington


In rural settings, leaving for college can mean a young person's first step in leaving home forever (Sherman & Sage, 2011). That presents a serious challenge for college recruiters as they ask parents from Indian reservations or close-knit Hispanic or rural farming communities to allow their children to consider postsecondary opportunities. In this article, the authors discuss impediments to college-going that rural students face and shine a light on several efforts in central Washington State that help students connect to job opportunities in fast-growing, lucrative STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers in the region. Beyond inviting STEM professionals to job fairs, these efforts can expand opportunities for collaboration between STEM professionals and rural schools and teachers. Such opportunities might include enriching the K–12 curriculum with locally relevant problems of science, using local STEM professionals to collaborate on learning projects, and possibly engaging students to contribute to national databases and studies. These programs represent one way to highlight the real-world application of postsecondary education, encouraging students to pursue STEM college programs and careers.


Barbara Peterson serves as the Executive Director of the Northwest Learning and Achievement (NLA) Group, an education nonprofit that she cofounded in 1999 in the rural central Washington community of Wapato. NLA works with low-income school districts throughout central Washington State, bringing auxiliary college outreach and afterschool programs.

Greta Bornemann serves as the Director of Mathematics for the Puget Sound Educational Service District, supporting 35 school districts in Washington State. With more than 25 years of experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and Washington State Director of Mathematics, her interests include curriculum synergy, systems that promote quality mathematics experiences for underserved populations, and mathematics teacher professional development. She is currently completing her Ed.D. at the University of Washington.

Cheryl Lydon, STEM program manager for the Puget Sound Educational Service District, leads a career awareness exploration system to connect young people with real-world learning experiences. She also focuses on supporting teacher professional learning and whole-system design to make science accessible to all students. Lydon, who earned an M.Ed. in Science Education from Western Washington University, is currently completing her Ed.D. at the University of Washington.

Kimberly West is a professional learning specialist working with school districts across the United States. Her work focuses on redefining what teaching and learning looks like in the 21st century. She is a National Board Certified k-12 educator in her 16th year of teaching both students and teachers.