UNM receives $20M for program that could help boost NM's STEM workforce

By:  Collin Krabbe

The University of New Mexico has been awarded $20 million from the National Science Foundation to build a research and education program to help develop a more modern electric grid.

The project aims to connect scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories with students and researchers from New Mexico's higher education institutions. It will also work to bolster the state's STEM workforce.

"The center will coalesce ongoing independent research efforts throughout New Mexico in academia, national laboratories and industry under the umbrella of a unified, integrated program," a news release says.

An influx of STEM jobs around the state could help grow the local economy and fill workforce gaps in the state.

According to a report from the state's Legislative Finance Committee, New Mexico institutions have been underproducing STEM graduates.

"An average high-tech industry will open 4,600 jobs per year that require a STEM degree in New Mexico and institutions are only producing 2,600 STEM graduates per year," the report said. "The difference between employment of New Mexico STEM graduates versus the national average is 20 percentage points less in New Mexico’s high tech industries."

The median salary for STEM graduates one year out of college working in high-tech positions is $49,000, according to the Legislative Finance Committee, which is $873 more than the median Albuquerque household brought in between 2012 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Our state’s students and workers can and should be prepared to take on the challenges of integrating renewable energy sources into our grid, building self-sustaining microgrids and optimizing the use of all of our energy sources," U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a prepared statement.

The grant extends over five years and was announced by U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Heinrich and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The modernization of power grids could also mean more interaction between consumers and their utilities, meaning that customers will be able to connect a variety of new technologies to the grid on their own terms, according to our sister company Columbus Business First.