CUMBERLAND — The voters of Maine are being asked to support several bond requests on Nov. 5. I am asking for your support of all five requests.

As a group, they garnered two-thirds vote or more of each house of the Maine Legislature and were signed off by Gov. LePage.

Question 2 on the ballot is particularly important. It will ask the voters to approve a $15.5 million bond to fund upgrades and improvements to equipment, technology and classrooms associated with the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM for short) at each of the University of Maine System campuses. This funding is crucial to the future of our university system, our students and the state of Maine’s economy.

Significant improvement has occurred at the elementary and high school level in the teaching of STEM courses. Witness the high national/international ranking of Maine eighth-graders in recent science and math testing.

However, at our university campuses, some of the labs and classrooms have seen limited or no upgrades and improvements in 50 years. Each campus has specific needs and goals for their share of these funds.

All funds will be used on equipment, technology, lab improvements, classroom rehabilitation and a few building exterior repairs. Each of these investments is aimed at guaranteeing that all of our students enrolled in STEM learning have a state of the art experience at our university system campuses.

Jobs in the STEM areas are growing faster than any other sector. In Maine, the biomedical field has grown dramatically. STEM courses are the foundation for these jobs.

Nationwide, STEM-related jobs will increase between 16 percent in mathematics to 62 percent in the field of biomedical engineering from 2010 to 2020, according to statistics released by the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C. All other occupations are estimated to increase by only 14 percent over the same timeframe. Maine must prepare its graduates to compete in these areas with the best education possible. It is in our enlightened self-interest to do so.

While the number of baccalaureate graduates in STEM fields has increased by 30 percent over recent years, retention in these majors remains an issue. Fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete their college years with a STEM degree.

Merely increasing the retention of STEM majors from 40 percent to 50 percent would generate three-quarters of the STEM graduates needed to fill STEM positions over the next decade.

Retention of quality students in Maine is greatly affected by the quality of the facilities we offer them. Without labs, equipment and classrooms that meet the needs of today’s advanced educational needs, we will lose ground. These improvements will help insure a quality education for our students for years to come.

Funding from this critical bond issue will focus on already existing facilities, not new or increased space. Every campus of the University of Maine system will be affected by these improvements, from Portland to Fort Kent and from Machias to Farmington.

While students throughout the University of Maine System have received a top-notch education and significant skills and training in these fields thanks to a talented group of professors and instructors, STEM education relies on state-of-the-art equipment, and infrastructure that allows for students to get hands-on experience before entering the job market.

Unfortunately, there are some labs that have not seen upgrades since the ’60s. To put that in perspective, the last time some of these labs were upgraded, America was just starting to talk about putting a man on the moon.

The mission of our university system is to educate our youth to be ready to compete in the global economy. Maine is well poised to compete in the STEM fields for jobs.

Biotechnical and biomedical jobs are increasing in southern and central Maine. In central and northern Maine, STEM courses are critical to agricultural and forestry jobs. On the coast, there is an increased need for STEM graduates in the fisheries and oceanology related fields.

Around the state of Maine and across the nation, manufacturing jobs lost to overseas locations over the last 20 years are returning stateside. Let’s make sure our graduates are ready to compete for these good-paying positions.

On Nov. 5, please vote to support your University of Maine System by voting in favor of the Question 2 bond issue.

— Special to the Press Herald

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