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Alejandra Arroyo, center, 15, helps Sofia Rodriguez Chen, left, 12, and Rylee Hendricks, 13, program their robot to start and stop when it senses different colors at an Avid STEM Academy on Thursday at West Valley High School in Yakima.

I became interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in fourth grade, when I started in my school’s “Gifted and Talented” program. Math especially caught my attention. It’s exciting that there is always more to learn and typically more than one way to arrive at the correct answer.

After realizing my passion for STEM, I took math and science classes throughout high school and participated in clubs like SkillsUSA, a career and technical student organization. This fall, I will be studying finance at the University of Washington. I am proud to be the first of my family to attend college.

Eventually, I hope to apply my math skills to become a financial manager or a financial adviser.

On April 29, I was among the 46 graduating high school seniors in Washington state and more than 600 nationwide participating in the national STEM Signing Day, presented by Boeing. The event honors seniors who choose to pursue STEM education at technical programs, and two- and four- year colleges and universities. Like signing days for athletes, we each signed a letter of intent to pursue our STEM goals after high school. After a challenging senior year living amid the global pandemic, it was wonderful to be celebrated for my achievements alongside other students and hear from community leaders.

I am excited to be part of the next generation of innovators in Washington. My fellow STEM Signing Day honorees will be pursuing degrees, certificates, and apprenticeships in diverse fields such as health care, engineering, human centered design, environmental conservation, and computer science.

Whether students plan to engineer aircraft or make scientific discoveries about the human brain, I am confident that our STEM education will lead us to a variety of well-paying jobs right here in our state.

According to Washington STEM, out of the 240,000 entry-level, family-sustaining job openings projected in Washington state in 2030, eight out of 10 will require a post-high school credential and 6 out of 10 will be in a STEM discipline. While more and more jobs available in our state require a post-high school credential, only 40% of Washington’s high school students earn a credential by age 26. Enabling students like us to get to and through postsecondary education is important to help us reach our career goals and help our state grow the talent it needs to support the economy.

If you are an elementary student discovering STEM or a middle or high school student starting to think about your future, I encourage you to seek out classes and school activities that will get you closer to your goals after high school. Explore your interests and how you can apply them to your future education and career.

Our work as curious innovators will make the future brighter for our communities and our state.