Nevada’s Economic Diversification is all about STEM

Author: Dave Brancamp, Director, Nevada Department of Education Office of Standards and Instructional Support

Nevada is changing. Where once as a state we were known mainly for our gaming, tourism, and hospitality industries, we have now added to our portfolio many new and exciting industries such as clean energy, robotics, battery manufacturing, drones, and autonomous vehicles. Nevada’s established industries are also changing as technology and entertainment collide. Together, these industries old and new are building the “New Nevada.” The common element in the industries of the New Nevada is the requirement for specialized knowledge and skill sets in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

As Nevada changes, so too does the world around it. Technology affects all aspects of life, and we are connected instantaneously to events around the world. As the world grows more interconnected, its challenges grow in complexity. Change brings opportunities to solve new challenges. Nevada’s future depends on its students being prepared to meet a wide variety of challenges both at work and outside of it. Those who have a solid foundation in real-world problem solving and experimentation, the bedrock of a rigorous STEM education, become confident, critical thinkers with the creativity to find solutions to the challenges they face. No matter the career pathway they pursue after high school, all students benefit from the skills learned in STEM.

The recession that started in 2008 hit Nevada harder than most states. Leading up to the recession, Nevada’s economy had thrived on the strength of its tourism, gaming, and hospitality industries. These industries fueled a residential and commercial construction boom, particularly in Southern Nevada. As the rest of the nation struggled with a contracting economy during the recession, less discretionary income elsewhere meant fewer visitors to Nevada and less money spent by those that did come. This cratering of the tourism industry spread to other industries across the state, including construction, small businesses, and retail and resulted in the unemployment rate peaking at 13.7% in 2010 . Nevada led the nation in unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures.

In 2011, Nevada embarked on an economic development strategy to diversify the economy and catalyze innovation. This unified economic development effort led to efforts in the state to recruit, retain, and expand businesses in targeted industry sectors, and expanded global engagement to facilitate export growth. The success of this ongoing effort is evident in the number of innovative companies that have relocated to or expanded operations in Nevada, including Tesla, Faraday Future, Hyperloop One, Switch, and others.

Since 2011, Nevada has made significant investments in STEM education around the state and has established an infrastructure to carry the work forward.

  • In 2013, the Nevada Legislature passed NRS-385-705, which created the STEM Advisory Council. The Council was charged with “… developing a strategic plan for the development of educational resources in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to serve as a foundation for workforce development, college preparedness and economic development in Nevada.”
  • In 2014, Nevada Department of Education (NDE) facilitated the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, which complement Nevada’s college and career ready standards for mathematics and English language arts.
  • The Office of Science, Innovation and Technology (OSIT) was reestablished in the 2015 by the Governor and funded by the Legislature 3 . The mission of OSIT is to coordinate and align efforts by K-12 and higher education, workforce development and employers to improve STEM education, STEM workforce development and STEM economic development so that Nevada’s workforce can meet the demands of its growing economy. The office also supports the STEM Advisory Council.
  • In 2015, the Governor included $8 million in his executive budget for college and career readiness grants targeting secondary education and monitored by the NDE. STEM was among the eligible uses of this funding.
  • School districts around the state have also made significant investments in STEM education, from the Douglas High School STEM Center to Clark County School District’s Magnet and CTE programs, to Washoe County’s Signature Academies.
  • In September of 2016, Governor Sandoval proclaimed the 2016-2017 school year as the “Year of STEM” in Nevada, and OSIT and NDE are leading several efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of STEM education and the career opportunities available, reduce the skills gap STEM employers face, and increase equity and access to quality STEM education for all of Nevada’s students.
  • Then on December 5th , Governor Brian Sandoval proclaimed December as Computer Science Careers Month in the Year of STEM and also announced he has joined the Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science, a nationwide network dedicated to expanding computer science education.
  • Finally, on January 17 , 2017, the Nevada Academic Standards Council granted permission for the NDE to begin the process of writing the first set of Nevada academic standards for Computer Science, using the recently released K-12 Computer Science Framework. Computer Science will be one of the Top Ten high demand occupations in Nevada. In preparation for this work, the Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Center has entered into a partnership with and NDE to support our teachers with the necessary training in computer science to support this new initiative. The NDE Office of Standards and Instructional Support in collaboration with OSIT will guide these STEM initiatives forward with our Nevada educational community to meet the demands of the “New Nevada”.

For more information on how to become of part of this movement, please contact Dave Brancamp at or at (775) 687 -5930.