The University of New Mexico-Taos (UNM-Taos) K-12 Outreach Program Director Paralee King, who is coming off a successful summer of workshops designed for K-12 students, has more to celebrate. She recently learned that her application for the Encantado Foundation's Community Grant was awarded. This means $5,000 is earmarked for UNM-Taos’ K-12 Outreach to be used between now and June 30, 2024.

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The mission of the Santa Fe-based Encantado Foundation is “to stimulate the development of hire-ready candidates for STEM-related positions, particularly in the areas of cyber security, application development and management, and IT operations.”

Since the grant’s focus is on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, the funds will be used to purchase Ozobots, which are small, desk-friendly coding robots. The Ozobots will introduce local fourth-grade students to the world of coding. Students will use color combinations to move the Ozobots on a path from one location to another. King said this is a beginning coding exercise “that's more experiential and hands-on than actual coding,” but it informs students about the process of creating instructions for a computer to follow.

King considers herself a generalist when it comes to program creation, however, she’s an educator who previously taught science in high schools. She sees programs like this as a way to build confidence in every student in all STEM-related endeavors. “This way,” she said, “they maintain learning readiness, as well as remain open to considering a career in technology.”

A statewide need for STEM-educated workers drives the Encantado Foundation’s mission and how it addresses what it states is “a struggle to find employee candidates with the appropriate education, certifications, and hands-on experience to fill its thousands of available STEM-related positions each year.”

“The thin digital workforce impacts technology employers of all sizes and, ultimately, the state’s economy as a whole,” as further stated on the foundation’s website. “The five fastest-growing occupations for the greater Albuquerque area between 2015 and 2020 were all STEM-related. Yet, while the average salary for a computing occupation in New Mexico ($79,230) is nearly double the state’s average salary ($44,160), there were a reported 2,406 unfilled computing jobs in New Mexico in 2017, representing a $171,511,936 opportunity in terms of annual salaries.”

Learn more about the Encantado Foundation and UNM-Taos K-12 Outreach.