Inspiring STEM education in Washington: how it began

In early 2009, middle schoolers across the Tri-Cities learned about the open application for a new high school in the region focused on STEM education, an approach to learning and development that provides students with educational experiences through a scientific and technologically based program.

News of the school quickly spread, nearly 300 applications were entered into a lottery system, and 110 students formed the inaugural class of Delta High School.

In the decade 2000, federal initiatives and incentives encouraged schools across the country to place an emphasis on STEM programming to create and sustain global leadership in innovation and problem solving. Leaders in Washington State and the Tri-Cities also recognized the value and urgency, creating an advisory committee in 2006 to discuss the possibility of investing in a STEM high school. It was driven by a vision to help students understand the important role the subjects played to our nation, and to be a catalyst for lifelong learning and appreciation for STEM.

On September 1, 2009, Delta High School opened its doors for the first time, concentrated in the heart of a research community and opportunity.

Janhvi Rana was one student to walk through those doors – both physically and metaphorically. “Through their lottery system, Delta broke down social and economic barriers to STEM education, created accessibility, and gave additional resources to students to help student reach their fullest potential.”

Today Janhvi goes by Dr. Rana. She is a resident physician at a local Tri-Cities hospital. “I never imagined graduating medical school. I got the opportunity to work in my hometown and give back to a community that gave me everything,” she said. “There is no growth in comfort. Delta took me out of my comfort zone to be where I am today.”

Since its open, Delta has won countless awards, moved into a new building to support more students, and serves as a model for growing STEM education. Delta has helped multiple STEM elementary schools open across the community and informs work at STEM schools across the state and country. 

This year, Delta’s first graduating class (class of 2013) celebrates their ten-year high school anniversary. Their stories exemplify the importance of STEM education and its long-term investment in the lives of youth.

Janhvi Rana, resident physician at Trios Health
Delta Class of 2013

Where are they now: class of 2013 reflects on the power of STEM education

The class of 2013 led the way for STEM education in Washington state. Their enthusiasm to sit on the cutting edge of innovation in education helped pave the path for many students in the years following. Today they serve in diverse career fields, always reminded by Delta’s motto to “think differently”.

Tyler Williams, a PhD student studying mechanical engineering at the University of Washington was called to fight supply chain shortages impacting medical workers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. A modified face shield model he created using his engineering background was approved for emergency use by the National Institute of Health.

Tyler Williams, Delta Class of 2013

Nallely Centeno serves as a surgical technician at a children’s hospital, working toward her long-term goal and passion to become a nurse practitioner.

Erik Ruehl is business owner for video, photography, and motion graphics serving community and government organizations in South Australia. “Although I took a different path, the pathways into STEM careers were clearly made more attainable and accessible because of the curriculum, partnerships, and unique opportunities we had at Delta,” he said.  

Many of the students interviewed mentioned Delta’s ability to challenge them and offer courses that are outside of the traditional K-12 curriculum, for example computer programming and 3D design.

“Delta taught me to not be afraid of trying new things,” said Juan Rodriguez, field technical coordinator for an agriculture technology company. “STEM is a great field, and it is only getting bigger. There are so many different areas in the field for people to enjoy and find their place in.”

In September, the class is scheduled to have a 10-year reunion gathering.

“It’s going to be great seeing how far the school has grown from then to now,” said Rodriguez.

Erik Ruehl, Delta Class of 2013


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