Dallas and its surrounding region of North Texas has seen steady growth in technology-focused jobs within the last decade. In fact, in 2017, Dallas was rated 11th among the most high-tech cities in the world in a list pulled together by research firm, 2thinknow. New professional, scientific, and technical services industries continue to be some of the fastest growing industries, with a projected growth rate of over 30 percent, according to 2014 Texas Workforce Commission report. Hand-in-hand with this tech boom comes the construction of facilities to accommodate these new companies, as well as the migration of young talent seeking positions in cutting-edge industries, without the expensive living costs of cities like New York and Silicon Valley. The plethora of tech jobs will have a positive economic impact on the city of Dallas, but the problem is: the city lacks a large population of people with STEM education backgrounds to help fill these positions that require more specialization and expertise.
Located in Southern Dallas, the town of Desoto is home to the new Katherine Johnson Technology Magnet Academy (KJTMA), an elementary school that specializes in robotics, coding, science, digital art, and music production. Recently completed this past August, the institution was built to serve 900 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. However, Desoto is also a town where 70 percent of students are at an economic disadvantage, the unemployment rate is about two percent higher than the national average, and only about 30 percent of adults hold a bachelor’s degree, according to a Population and Survey Analysts report distributed by the Desoto Independent School District. By building KJTMA, the intention is to create opportunities for children to explore subjects that will ultimately put them on track for high-demand and high-paying jobs—the likes of which Dallas businesses arelooking to fill. The intent behind facilities like the KJTMA is to cultivate interest from students at an early age, since students already start solidifying their attitudes toward math and science in elementary school.
A built space has the power to dictate the way its inhabitants feel, and the KJTMA was designed to make its students feel special. Its open layout encourages children of all ages to seek new ways of learning, while a library located strategically at the heart of the building serves as the main hub, leading the kids to their classrooms and labs. Soft collaboration spaces and an outdoor courtyard also offer opportunities for flexible learning outside of the confines of a classroom setup. Additional “maker spaces” such as robotics labs and music studios allow students to create and interact with one another. This school is an example for how an academic institution can encourage all students to reach their potential and to be part of the economy of tomorrow. The students can then go on to contribute their knowledge and skills to companies, who rely on the work and expertise of their employees for success.
Another way that communities in Dallas can positively impact future generations’ job prospects is by having local businesses invest time, money, or energy into these schools. Businesses must take time to interact with students through activities such as offering tours of their offices and facilities to help them better visualize a future in a STEM field they might be interested in. If businesses invest back into their communities through various mentorship initiatives, a high percentage of people who grow up in the area will likely continue on to have professional careers in the Dallas area due to its abundance in job opportunities, and more attractive cost of living rates.
To ensure that Dallas remains an innovative city with plentiful opportunities for STEM-related occupations, the city itself (including local businesses) must be more proactive in creating more possibilities for their own residents to succeed—starting with the future leaders and CEOs of Dallas companies: its youngest children.
Vandana Nayak is a regional education practice leader at Perkins + Will. She works with clients across the state to deliver projects in K-12 and higher education architecture and design.