Share from Washington STEMComputer Science Catalyzes Career Connected Learning in the West Sound STEM Region: Education-Industry Partnerships for a Future Ready Washington.

The age-old question for students in math classes – we’ve all heard it, we’ve all probably even said it. “But what am I going to actually DO with what I’m learning?”

Teachers go above and beyond to ensure that learning is relevant for their students—each and every day. One group of 20 teachers from the West Sound STEM Network went the extra mile to find out just how students in the West Sound region can apply their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills at an outstanding regional company: MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions, Inc. These teachers are part of a West Sound STEM Network year-long, 10-district cohort centered around computer science competencies, equity, and connected computer science pathways from kindergarten to career.

On August 1, 2018, MacDonald-Miller hosted these teachers for a day of intensive learning and engagement to discuss how computer science skills, including computational thinking, coding, and design thinking, are used daily at MacDonald-Miller. CEO Gus Simonds and team welcomed the teachers with highlights of how building controls positions are necessary in many sectors from health care to national defense.

MacDonald-Miller is one of the top mechanical contractors in the Pacific Northwest. They design, build, and optimize mechanical systems and other building system solutions for what are simply some of the coolest building projects in the area – ranging from the Seattle Aquarium to King 5 to Swedish Health Services to the Capitol Hill Sound Transit Station. The mechanical scope and building optimization require many STEM skillsets such as engineers to design the projects, electricians and other trades to install what’s designed, computer programmers to develop consumer-facing apps, and IT and facility professionals to keep systems running smoothly.

MacDonald-Miller understands that it is smart business to invest time and resources into preparing our next generation of students to get the skillsets they need to be Washington’s next leaders, thinkers, and doers. According to CEO Gus Simonds, “We need to have a product that people want. One way to do this is to be the best. We need to have good people who can apply math and engineering skills.” That’s why MacDonald-Miller partners with the West Sound STEM Network, Western Washington University, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to expose teachers to what students will be doing with all the math and science skills they’re learning.

During the half-day site visit, MacDonald-Miller leaders hosted a panel to discuss how technology is used in the Building Controls industry and led a worksite tour to see computer science skills in action. 

The panel, facilitated by MacDonald-Miller’s Vice President of Building Performance Perry England, featured six STEM professionals working in MacDonald-Miller’s space. During the panel, teachers learned about career pathways each staffer took to get to their current position, how they applied skills they learned throughout their education to their work, and some of the challenges they face each day and how they use computational and design thinking to tackle those challenges. Teachers walked away with increased context around the skills they’re building in the classroom and a real sense of what sort of jobs are available for students engaged in STEM fields. Many on the panel spoke about the importance of grit and perseverance. When asked about the traits MacDonald-Miller is looking for, Jeremy Richmond said, “A willingness to try something new. Knowing that it’s okay to ask for help. I may not know the answer, but knowing who to ask is critical.”

VP Perry England added that cooperation and collaboration are critical. “You’re learning other people’s jobs by doing your job. Learn, troubleshoot, and communicate.”

After the panel, teachers broke up into small groups and took a tour of the service coordination floors of MacDonald-Miller. Teachers chatted with team leaders in engineering, building analytics, controls engineering, energy engineering, and estimating. If you don’t know what all those careers mean – you’re not alone. The sheer number of titles points to the wide variety of skillsets needed to make complex, modern, buildings functional. And that’s not going to stop with this generation – economists estimate that 85% of job titles available in 30 years don’t even exist today. That’s even more evidence that a strong STEM education that includes creative problem solving and expanded thinking is necessary for tomorrow’s jobs.

Dr. Kareen Borders, Director of the West Sound STEM Network, stated that the 20 teachers walked away from the tour inspired and motivated. “The visit contextualized the industry-education connection around controls technology and computer science for teachers, especially when thinking about the pathway to family wage jobs,” said Dr. Borders. “Thank you to MacDonald-Miller for hosting an inspiring and energizing day connecting teaching with career paths.”

The next steps for a partnership between MacDonald-Miller and West Sound STEM Network will include launching a statewide youth apprenticeship, so that young people can engage in hands-on, paid learning that will lead to employable skills right out of high school. Learn more by contacting Dr. Kareen Borders at

More from West Sound STEM Network here.  

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