Rare is the day when Tacoma beats out San Francisco for a technology start-up, wins the attention of a former Facebook executive and has a chance to boast about being the West Coast host of a Zuckerberg family member's venture.
But that’s what happened recently with the announcement that an exciting youth-oriented initiative, created by Facebook Live founder Randi Zuckerberg (Mark’s sister), will come to Tacoma this summer — one of just 10 U.S. cities identified for the traveling, hands-on high-tech lab.
Called “Sue’s Tech Kitchen,” the program debuted last year in New York. It uses a fictional female protagonist to teach children about math, science and robotics through two of their favorite things: play and food. Where else can a kid make 3D-printed cakes, computer-coded candy and ice cream whipped up from liquid nitrogen?
“Sue’s Tech Kitchen recognizes that one of the best ways for our kids to learn is through play,” said Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who made the announcement at his recent State of the County address. “It’s also one of the best ways to build communities.”
No, this three-day experience doesn’t have the heft of an information-technology firm or biotech startup. It’s not a brick-and-mortar Silicon Valley-esque enterprise, the kind that local economic development leaders covet as they try to build a persuasive portfolio that Tacoma is a tech town.
But it might be the next best thing: an investment in the scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, the creative thinkers whom our country — and our region — must cultivate if it hopes to compete globally over the next half century.
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Randi Zuckerberg is passionate about bringing these fields of interest to underserved but promising communities outside the Bay area, and to underserved but promising students, particularly young girls. Bravo to her for recognizing that Tacoma fits the criteria to a T.
No doubt it helped that Zuckerberg has visited Tacoma and caught a glimpse of its energy and untapped potential. The bestselling author of “Dot Complicated: Untangling our Wired Lives” was the keynote speaker at last fall’s South Sound Summit, hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. Those are the kinds of connections that can pay dividends later.
The traveling program, slated to be here in August, will give the Tacoma area one more layer of accessible, fun-filled learning in science, technology, engineering and math, a cluster of knowledge popularly known as STEM.
Local education institutions have done their part for several years and continue to do so. Since 2003, the University of Washington Tacoma has sponsored a tuition-free, three-week summer Math-Science Leadership Program; it is tailored to students in grades 7-12 who historically lack STEM opportunities — low-income, minority, female and potential first-generation college students.
Similarly, Pacific Lutheran University hosts a two-week summer Tech Trek program for students entering the 8th grade, but it focuses on a single underrepresented niche: girls. PLU partners with the American Association of University Women, whose research shows a troubling gap persists between the number of men and women in today’s engineering and computing workforces.
With such sustained efforts, there’s reason to believe Tacoma can launch the post-millennial generation of girls and boys on a path to change the world with cutting-edge discoveries.
Now, is it too much to hope they’ll be able to stay home and do it here?