State of Innovation Challenge invites Washington youth to design solutions to the state's big issues

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Gov. Jay Inslee, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, the STEM Education and Innovation Alliance, Career Connect Washington and community partners including 4-H Washington, announce the launch of the State of Innovation Challenge—a virtual, career-connected problem solving challenge that invites Washington youth to design and share their own solutions to some of the biggest issues Washington’s employers and communities are facing in 2020 and 2021.

From COVID-19 testing, to mental healthcare for social distancing teens, to keeping our food supply chain robust, to creating more sustainable schools, towns, and manufacturing centers for our post-COVID-19 future, the last 12 months have had no shortage of complex issues. Through the Challenge, students can explore these issues in depth, consider how they impact their communities, and work with teachers or other adult advisers to share with state leaders through the Challenge website.

As they design their Challenge solutions, youth will have opportunities to interact with industry leaders from fields like healthcare, manufacturing, technology, agriculture and hospitality to learn how these industries are addressing 2020’s challenges while also exploring their own future career path. Educators, youth-serving program leaders and youth can sign up for more information at

"Washington has always been a state of dreamers, doers and innovators,” Inslee said. “This year, as we face some of the biggest challenges our state has ever faced, we want to invite the next generation of problem solvers to help us find the way forward.”

Created with the input of teachers and youth program leaders, the Challenge is designed to support educators working with youth in the virtual environment. They can share lesson and activity plans with peers, and use the provided videos, research and industry engagement sessions to further engage students.

"Our educators are doing incredible work engaging students in a new digital environment," Reykdal said. “The Challenge provides ways for them to share that work with peers across the state, to collaborate and to connect classroom topics to the real-world problems that young people are focused on right now.”

Youth can also learn about pathways to postsecondary education and training like Career Launch programs, Washington College Grant and the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship.

“We want to create pathways to opportunity for young people, especially those who face systemic barriers to opportunity,” said James Dorsey, STEM Alliance co-chair and CEO of the College Success Foundation. “We want to empower youth to take on today’s problems, and also help them find the pathway to the future they envision for themselves.”

The State of Innovation Challenge invites youth to create solutions to one of three cases:

  • “The Food Chain”: How can we ensure that every Washingtonian can have access to healthy, affordable, and environmentally sustainable food during the pandemic, especially low-income households?
  • “Responding to COVID-19”: How can we support the mental health of teens and elders while practicing social distancing? How can we ensure all Washington residents have accurate, actionable, accessible information about COVID-19, while respecting their individual privacy?
  • “Our Communities after COVID-19”: How can we help Washington build back from the pandemic in a healthier, more resilient, more sustainable way? How should we change our approach to housing, education, urban design or manufacturing so that we can have healthy, connected, sustainable communities?

Youth in middle school, high school, alternative education programs and out of school youth programs—including WIOA-eligible youth and youth in re-engagement programs—are eligible to participate. In addition to working directly with educators, the STEM Education Innovation Alliance is partnering with Career Connect Washington, 4-H Washington, Junior Achievement and other education and youth focused community partners across the state.

The State of Innovation Challenge builds on Career Connect Washington’s CareerConnect@Home program, which brought daily livestreamed conversations with Washington State employers to youth in Spring 2020.

About: The State of Innovation Challenge is an initiative of the STEM Education and Innovation Alliance, in partnership with Career Connect Washington, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Office of the Governor, Employment Security Department, Washington Student Achievement Council, and 4-H Washington.

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