Securing a well-paying job and entering a career pathway that leads to a fulfilling future increasingly depends on earning a college degree. The traditional pathway to a bachelor’s education (and for some, a graduate education) has led millions of students to successful job placements. But a four-year institution is not the only approach for a rewarding career.
Hundreds of thousands of community college students are enrolled in programs that deliver the skills needed for well-paid jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries, such as advanced manufacturing, energy, information technology and healthcare.
And the opportunities abound. US jobs in STEM fields are growing at more than double the rate of other jobs, according to the US Department of Commerce. At the same time, baby boomers are retiring in large numbers, thinning workforce ranks.
Half of STEM jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree — usually an associate’s degree or a certificate is enough — and pay an average of $53,000 per year. These jobs range from respiratory therapists, to power plant operators, to precision machinists.
To raise the profile of middle-skill STEM jobs and the community colleges that deliver first-rate preparation for such positions, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and the Siemens Foundation partnered to create the Siemens Technical Scholars Program. This week, we announced the first class of Siemens Technical Scholars at an event hosted by the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC.
Twenty-nine exceptional individuals were awarded scholarships between $3,500 and $10,000 for their hard work and dedication. The 2015 Siemens Technical Scholars all attend or recently attended middle-skill STEM programs at community colleges that have been named top finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence (see detailed listing of students and programs online).
Each Siemens Technical Scholar has a unique story to tell, and two shared their stories with Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens USA, at the announcement event.
Manuel Rivera, well on his way to a career as a certified respiratory therapist through Valencia College’s respiratory therapy program, shared his dream of becoming a pediatrician.
Edleshia Leverette, who graduates in a few months from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s process technology program, shared her passion for this highly technical field and her love of learning.
The community college programs attended by Rivera and Leverette — and the other 27 Siemens Technical Scholars — deliver first-rate preparation for jobs that employers are eager to fill. These programs, and the jobs they lead to, are springboards to better economic opportunity. We have a vested interest in helping more community colleges emulate this type of success. The Siemens Foundation and the Aspen Institute are proud to honor these students and the paths they have chosen, as well as support the attainment of their educational and career goals.
Joshua Wyner is vice president and executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute. David Etzwiler is CEO of the Siemens Foundation.