February 29, 2016

SPP employees inspire students to explore STEM education

SPP hosted more than 100 high-school students from across the state Feb. 25 to demonstrate to them the value of STEM education in our work.

"Simply put, we must increase the college-student pipeline in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by focusing our attention on attitudes toward these subjects earlier in a student's education," SPP CEO and President Nick Brown wrote in an essay for Engage, a publication of the Arkansas Community Foundation. "Regardless of the study you reference, Arkansas is last or near last in the percent of population with college degrees – less than 20 percent. Of the college students who have a goal of a STEM degree, 60 percent will graduate with a non-STEM degree."

Representatives from SPP's engineering, IT and operations departments demonstrated to students enrolled in a statewide Essentials of Computer Programming course – coordinated by the Arkansas School for Math, Science and the Arts – how algorithms and other programming tools help them monitor the grid, collect and analyze data from 94 member companies and ensure the reliable supply of electricity to nearly 18 million people in our footprint.

Employees including Peter Tucker, Ed Briggler, Eric Wyles, Sara Cowell, Yasser Bahbaz, Ryan Schoppe, Renee McMillen and Mike Ross participated in a question-and-answer panel after the presentations.

"I believe getting students interested in STEM fields from a young age is absolutely vital to the long-term success of our nation as it allows us to steadily push the boundaries for what is possible," Engineer II Ryan Schoppe said. "Employees with STEM backgrounds allow SPP to serve its membership by utilizing the diverse knowledge, problem solving abilities, technological skills and other assets that they possess."

"I am very grateful to the SPP staff who took the time to prepare and speak to these students about engineering and information technology," said Mike Ross, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Relations. "Thanks to them, we were able to demonstrate the role STEM jobs play right here in Arkansas in helping manage the electric grid for all or parts of 14 states."

This meeting provided an opportunity to reach students across the state to encourage them to explore STEM studies and seek jobs in Arkansas. With the technical nature of what SPP does, it's important for us to get involved with local students who are interested in engineering and IT and encourage them to find jobs in their home state.

"While STEM students come from all over Arkansas, a large percentage of those students are not familiar with the employment opportunities in our great state," HR Generalist II Renee McMillen said. "Many believe they will have to go to bigger metropolitan areas, like Dallas or Austin, to be able to utilize their talents when they graduate. SPP has a great story to tell, and by engaging these students early we have the opportunity to pique their interest in an industry that they might not have known about otherwise."

Students may never consider a STEM profession because they don't realize the benefits it can bring to society or the fulfilling nature of the work involved, Ryan said.

"By engaging those still in school, we can help inform them of a potentially rewarding career path that allows them to make the world a better place," Ryan added.

Several teachers have commented about how much they enjoyed visiting SPP, and their students found the presentations insightful.

"Hopefully, we inspired some of these high-school students to pursue a career in a STEM-related field," Mike added.

Derek Wingfield, (501) 614-3394, dwingfield@spp.org