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Finia Dinh, computer science program manager, Idaho STEM Action Center

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Finia Dinh may not be an engineer, but she’s responsible for helping develop a pipeline.

Finia Dinh. Photo by Pete Grady.

Finia Dinh. Photo by Pete Grady.

That pipeline is the one that educates students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), one that is producing the skilled workforce that Idaho needs to be competitive in the 21st century. Specifically, she’s the computer science program manager for the Idaho STEM Action Center, created by the Idaho Legislature in 2015, where she oversees the allocation of $2 million to help promote STEM education in Idaho.

“What I do at the Action Center is try to encourage youth to pursue a STEM career or have access to STEM,” Dinh explains. “The main goal is to get computer science incorporated into the education system from K to career. Whether they strictly go into computer science or not, it’s giving them skills they need such as critical thinking, problem-solving, being innovative, and being collaborative.”

Dinh got involved in the STEM Action Center when its executive director, Angela Hemingway, made a presentation to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce education and workforce development committee. At the time, Dinh was working at the Department of Labor as a regional business specialist, focusing on technology. “I grabbed (Hemingway’s) card, because I wanted to follow up to potentially partner,” she remembers. “We had a meeting and we hit it off. She let me know when this position was available and I just applied.”

In her position, Dinh looks for ways to make computer science fun for students. “There’s a huge misconception with computer science, that you have to be really techie and a nerd who sits in your basement by yourself,” she says. “For us, it’s fun to be a new agency where we can be innovative in our approach.”

For example, earlier this year the organization held a STEM event at the Statehouse during the legislative session with 30 vendors demonstrating hands-on activities for students to get excited about STEM. “By getting them exposed to that and getting teachers professional development, we hope to capture their interest and keep it throughout,” she says.

“We’ve impacted over 33,000 Idahoans with our funding,” Dinh says, including teachers, students, and the community. For example, the Center provides technical development training to teachers. “Those teachers then go on to incorporate that training into their classrooms, so the students are impacted as well,” she explains.

Outside of work, Dinh has played a major role in the Junior League, where she is chair of community research and project development. “I love Junior League because it’s women promoting women, focused on the community and education,” she says. “You work with organizations like the Ronald McDonald House, the Women’s and Children’s Alliance, and the Idaho Foodbank, and have a lot of fun doing it with your friends, so it’s really nice.” She also started sitting on a task force committee with the Girl Scouts of the Silver Sage. Right now, she’s on sabbatical from the Junior League because she recently had a baby, “so there’s not too much spare time,” she admits.

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