UW student dreams of drones

This article, written by Naria K. Santa Lucia, originally appeared on GeekWire.com on December 5, 2017.

It’s a common storyline and report focus. The economic growth of our region continues to result in more jobs than we have people to fill them. According to a recent report from the Technology Alliance, the gap between employer demand and the number of available STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) graduates continues to grow. In fact, if our education pipeline continues to graduate students at the same rate we are today, we will only be able to meet 27 percent of the total STEM job openings through 2025. A startling number.

Along with the “village” of community and industry partners, mentors and professionals, a program unique to Washington is helping homegrown talent— nearly 16,000 in total—launch their careers and join our high-demand workforce.

So, who are these future industry leaders?

They hail from every county in Washington. They are hard-working, inspiring young people like Wasif, a young man I met at a Scholar event last year.

In 2014, Wasif moved to the United States from Bangladesh as a young teen with his parents and two younger sisters, forcing him to adapt quickly to a new culture and way of life. Though starting high school in a foreign country is difficult enough, he also took college courses at Green River Community College through the Running Start program, making him eligible to enter the University of Washington (UW) as a junior, where he is currently majoring in aerospace engineering with a focus in computer science. Choosing UW was an easy decision for Wasif, as he loved the beautiful campus and was excited by the rigorous and competitive programs. The first in his family to attend a university in the United States, Wasif is already blazing a trail uniquely his own.

Despite being able to complete two years of tuition before even setting foot at UW, Wasif knew that he still needed to find a way to pay for the remainder of his college education, which is when he came across the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS). Wasif says WSOS is much more than a scholarship. One of the main reasons the program stood out to him is that the organization truly cares about his success and offers professional development opportunities such as resume-building classes and networking workshops. Being a WSOS Scholar has helped set him apart from other students at networking events and has helped him connect more easily with top executives, he says. The scholarship money has also been essential, allowing Wasif to continue his education without taking student loans or working multiple jobs, which is something we often hear from Scholars. This is all made possible through corporate partners and fundraising, including GeekWire and Bank of America’s annual Geeks Give Back campaign.

Wasif dreams of combining his two passions into a career: aerospace and computer science technology. One day, he hopes to find himself working on drones or for a cutting-edge aerospace or automotive company. With such big goals, Wasif is determined to do everything he can to turn them into reality. And we’re proud to be a part of his journey.

Wasif and hundreds of other students I’ve met through WSOS remind me that our investment in their future is vital, powerful and rewarding—for them and for all Washingtonians.

Naria Santa Lucia is the Executive Director of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship.

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