Pacific Education Institute testifies for natural resource jobs


We last wrote about the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in December, when it awarded ten $5,000 grants to Washington programs that support student exploration of natural resource management, agricultural science, and environmental science careers.

Since then, PEI has hired a new executive director, Kathryn Kurtz, and Kurtz just testified to the Senate Ways and Means Committee in favor of legislation that would encourage young people to take jobs in the natural resources, like forestry and agriculture.

Kurtz’s testimony was right in line with the mission of the Olympia-based PEI, which teaches children across the state, from kindergarten to 12th grade, about science in real-world, outdoor settings. In the group’s primary curriculum, called FieldSTEM, students observe, report and learn how every part of an ecosystem interacts with each other, with an emphasis on critical thinking and field analysis.

PEI, with the help of public and private funding, currently works with more than 100 school districts in Washington state and has plans to serve all of the state’s 295 districts by 2025. The group’s outdoor education saves money for the districts because instead of paying for indoor labs, they let nature become the learning environment.

Kurtz, the executive director of PEI, testified to the Senate committee in favor of Senate Bill 5285, which would “encourage better communication between higher education institutions and the business community through a comprehensive study, to determine the best ways to encourage early interest in these fields and fill ever-increasing worker shortages,” according to the Lens news site.

Kathryn Kurtz, Executive Director at the Pacific Education Institute (PEI), told the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, February 22 that “SSB 5285 will help us deliver that locally relevant career-connected learning for students across Washington state.”

Kurtz added, “If we know the jobs that are available for students with a two-year postsecondary degree in our rural and remote areas, we are better able to align our K-12 work to ensure our educators and students understand regional, middle-skill employment opportunities.”

According to a report with the legislation, natural resource jobs in Washington have a large scope:

The agriculture, natural resources, and environment sectors are responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs in Washington State. There are 37,249 farms in the state of Washington. The state’s apple industry accounts for 70 percent of the country’s apple production. The state’s top four commodities are apples, wheat, milk and potatoes. The state’s $49 billion food and agriculture industry employs approximately 160,000 people.

Throughout the state of Washington, more than 1,700 businesses are related to forest products. The overall direct, indirect, and induced jobs impact numbers for 2013 is 105,000 workers earning $4.9 billion in wages. The gross business income in forestry related industries is approximately $28 billion per year.

The environmental sector includes thousands of employees that work on issues that include, but are not limited to, clean technology, storm water mitigation, and fish culvert rehabilitation.