‘Tesla Effect’ Hits Nevada Schools as Interest in STEM Surges

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The car company’s ‘gigafactory’ will employ thousands, but Reno might not be up to the STEM challenge before investment and reforms.

The company made famous for its purely electric cars is creating next-generation batteries at a new facility in Reno, Nev. But to support its new endeavor, the forward-thinking auto manufacturer is investing in the education system.

Few expected Reno — the so-called biggest little city in the world — to be picked as the site for Tesla Motors’ $5 billion “gigafactory,” which will produce hundreds of thousands of lithium-ion batteries for the company each year. But in September 2014, Tesla and Nevada state officials announced they’d reached an agreement, and the company began acquiring thousands of acres of land just outside of Reno.

It’s a huge investment for Tesla, which plans to accelerate its car production along with the heightened battery output. But there’s a small problem further down the road for the gigafactory — namely, finding qualified local employees. It’s estimated that the massive facility will create 6,500 jobs in the region, but many of these positions will require engineering expertise and other skills that previously weren’t a priority in Reno.

To plant seeds for the future, Tesla is investing $37.5 million in the state’s K–12 education system while Nevada moves forward with education reforms, reports Bloomberg. That scale of investment, however, hasn’t translated to higher education.

“Local colleges don’t graduate enough students with the technical skills to fill the gigafactory’s expected 6,500 permanent positions,” the Bloomberg article notes. “A 2014 Brookings report urged the state to boost the number of Nevadans who possess at least some post-secondary training in “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and math.”

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The Washington Post reported that a 2014 Brookings Institution report revealed that Nevada is dead last in the nation in terms of the number of its workers in STEM occupations — just 15 percent, compared with 21 percent nationally.

However, the Tesla effect has caused some changes in Nevada’s higher education community. The company invested $1 million in battery research at the University of Nevada (UNR) in Las Vegas, and the university’s Reno campus will begin offering a minor in Batteries and Energy Storage Technologies in the fall.

UNR President Marc Johnson said the Tesla announcement in September resulted in increased enrolment and investment in sponsored research at the institution. Other faculty members have also been optimistic about the impact the company could have on the engineering side of the university.

“We imagine that there will be interest in our graduates as potential employees in the near future, and we are trying to lay a little groundwork there in our curriculum proactively,” Sean Casey, chair of UNR’s chemistry department, said in a university website post.

The company has already begun recruiting from the university, starting with a summer job fair that kicked off in February.

Tesla Motors