Dressed in dark blue Oregon Tech t-shirts and baseball caps to match, 24 Mazama High School students committed to the school’s STEM&M program on Wednesday, signing on as the second group to join the program in front of parents, school officials and district administrators.

The partnership between Mazama and Oregon Tech was created last year to develop a stronger connection between the two institutions and provide scholarship opportunities for students considering higher education after graduation. The STEM&M program focuses on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical pathways.

Of the 48 students who applied this year, 24 were accepted (12 females and 12 males) based on their student essay, letters of recommendation and GPA.

At the signing ceremony inside the school’s library on Wednesday, Mazama Vice Principal Randy Rose commended the students for their educational achievements.

“This is a serious and special occasion. You guys are standouts,” he said. “When you get the board members, ‘the bigwigs’, here, it shows how truly special this is.”

Before the students put pen to paper and signed the contracts, Laura Nickerson, science teacher and STEM&M director at Mazama, reminded them of what their commitments are over the next four years.

Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher, and while traditional students can choose their electives, those in the STEM&M program will be streamlined through a pathways program with specific dual credit classes linked to Oregon Tech.

In recognition of their commitment, Nickerson added that students will receive a Chromebook on loan from the school district for the duration of the program, and for those who complete their four-year requirements and choose to go on to Oregon Tech after graduation, they will receive a $9,500 scholarship from Oregon Tech, which Nickerson described as a year’s worth of tuition and cost.

“That’s the meat and bones of this program,” she said. “The scholarship money is why we’re doing this for you guys because it’s such a great opportunity.”

In addition to maintaining their grades, which Nickerson is confident they will, every year students must accumulate an additional 10 points outside of school by attending field trips, volunteering or listening to visiting speakers.

“You have to stretch yourselves beyond what regular students would do,” she said.

The point system has been upgraded since the program started last year and Nickerson said it’s one of the most valuable things the program offers as students have the opportunity to meet people working in the STEM&M field and hear first-hand about their experiences and the requirements of students in the future.

Cheyenne Miller, 14, was excited to sign her contract on Wednesday afternoon and join the STEM&M program. Although her pathway is currently undecided, she said she is interested in the medical field and is excited for the opportunities the program provides.

“I am going to volunteer for the STEM&M summer camp,” she said. “I want to be involved as much as possible.”

Cheyenne’s mother, Julie Miller, said she thinks the program will push Cheyenne out of her comfort zone and be a rewarding experience during her high school career.

“I think it’s a great opportunity and something I don’t think other schools offer,” she said. “She wants to go into the nursing program and the opportunity will make her work harder toward her goals.”

During a time where the nation and the world has a shortage of people working in the STEM&M field, Nickerson said it is vital to maximize on that opportunity and encourage students to work toward a career in STEM&M.

“Some of these kids don’t realize the different ways there are to fit into a STEM&M job,” she said. “So we are trying to expose them to that.”

After completing the program, Nickerson said the students will be college ready and successful, with a “great foundation laid out for them.”

“Some of them want to get out of town, but they don’t realize how great Oregon Tech is and if they want to pursue a career in the medical field they need to stay in town,” she said. “We have so many great opportunities for them.”

email: jbernhard@heraldandnews.com