Investing in STEM education means investing in San Antonio’s future

By on November 6, 2013

Since launching our New Energy Economy initiative, which leverages CPS Energy’s buying power to create clean technology jobs, the effort has received local and national praise and earned an international economic development award in just two short years.

What’s lesser known, however, is that we’ve distributed more than $1 million to several local schools, colleges and other educational entities, money committed by our New Energy Economy partners. That investment is about to be multiplied ten-fold thanks to a new partnership with Silver Spring Networks that will result in an educational investment of $10 million.

Some might wonder why their local energy company, whose core mission is to provide reliable, affordable power, would make educational investments such a large part of its economic development efforts.

It’s a multi-million dollar question, and the answer comes down to four letters – STEM.

Science, technology, engineering and math-educated employees are the backbone of a business built on the flow of electrons. Ensuring the safe delivery of electricity and natural gas to more than a million customers relies on those four study areas.

With an aging workforce and more advanced technologies flooding the industry, CPS Energy has too much skin in the game to be passive about education — because the pipeline is far from full.

By investing in STEM education today, CPS Energy is investing in tomorrow’s employees, those who will continue to innovate in an industry undergoing rapid, disruptive technological change.

That’s why CPS Energy also sponsors and participates in the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s annual CORE4 STEM Expo, which helps get more local students interested in becoming the next generation of STEM professionals and entrepreneurs. Other sponsors include companies with a similar dependence on STEM-educated employees such as Toyota, Boeing and Rackspace.

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Middle school students at last year’s CORE4 STEM Expo learn how the angle of a solar panel affects how much energy it generates.

In advance of the expo, Mayor Julian Castro proclaimed Nov. 10-16 as “STEM Week” in San Antonio.

“Brain power is the currency of success,” he said at the press conference Wednesday where he made the proclamation. “If San Antonio can create it, we will thrive.”

CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby joined the mayor and members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the CORE4 STEM Expo.

“I have a similar background to these students,” Beneby said of the Harlandale High School students assembled behind him on the steps of City Hall. “I studied engineering, and I know what it’s like to have a dream.”

He noted that CPS Energy’s New Energy Economy partners are not just bringing jobs to San Antonio, but are also investing in local education, “because they, too, have high paying tech jobs that will need to be filled.

Beneby also mentioned the utility’s long history of educational investments. Decades ago, CPS Energy began a mentoring program called Connect the Dots, then Mentoring Matters. That program’s success caught the attention of Mayor Castro, and is now in use at companies across the city. Today it’s known as Inspire U.

The Student Assistance for Education (SAFE) program, another CPS Energy student mentoring and scholarship program, boasts a stellar record. Over the past two decades, more than 120 students have worked at CPS Energy through SAFE and roughly 90 percent have graduated from college.

The latest crop will be graduating soon, including University of Texas at San Antonio mechanical engineer major Tania Hernandez and University of Texas at Austin’s Michael Miller.

Miller, also a mechanical engineering major, recently emailed SAFE program coordinator Karen Sanders, thanking her for playing a role in his recent internship for a company in the semiconductor industry.

“I want you to know that most of these opportunities I’ve had would probably never have materialized if it weren’t for the valuable experience I received at CPSEnergy during my three summers there,” he wrote. “I appreciate all that you’ve done to coordinate the program.”

For us, investing in education is not simply a matter of corporate responsibility. It’s a life line to a future workforce, for both CPS Energy and other local and national players. It also deepens a love for learning in the students whose lives we touch — and that opens up a world of opportunities.

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