Dennis Conger comes by his expertise in career pathways honestly. His resume includes time as a sign painter, illustrator, silkscreen artist, logo artist, teacher, principal, Skills Center Director, and Career Technical Education Director. While finding the right career pathway takes time, talent, and a bit of luck, Dennis knows that a strong Career Technical Education (CTE) program whose programs include STEM education can set a student on a pathway for success in their community. That’s why we’re profiling Dennis as a STEM Super Advocate.
Career Technical Education is a universe of courses that give students supervised, practical application of career skills and knowledge in subjects ranging from engineering to computer science to business education to horticulture. Dennis’s current job as CTE Director for Wenatchee Schools is ever changing and extremely busy. He spends time working directly with teachers to make sure they have what they need to create great educational experiences for their students. He builds infrastructure to support career connected learning programs. And you can regularly find Dennis sitting in meetings at Apple STEM Network, walking the marble floors of Olympia, or working with Wenatchee Learns to advocate for partnerships to support CTE and STEM education.
“Dennis is an invaluable partner in the work we are doing in North Central Washington,” says Dr. Sue Kane, co-director of the Apple STEM Network. “Whether we are planning an event or thinking through a strategic next step, I know that Dennis will be advocating for the student experience. Dennis genuinely wants to see the youth in Wenatchee be aware of the opportunities they have and know how to navigate to career paths that they love. That consistent, intentional student-centered focus is a hallmark of a great educator.”
“Through my work with the Apple STEM Network, we’ve seen some direct impacts that support CTE education,” said Dennis. Most recently, he states, STEM and CTE educators in North Central Washington advocated for and received over $850,000 to establish Career Connect North Central Washington, a program that will join career connect teams with high-quality apprenticeship and career connected learning experiences for CTE youth.
“I see STEM and CTE funding as complimentary. We have a mutual interest in creating the best education possible for our students,” says Dennis. This year, Dennis is working with Washington STEM and the Washington Association for Career and Technical Education to ensure that dollars for career technical education are not inadvertently cut due to changing funding formulas, as well as advocating generally to increase career pathways for Washington students.
The response from legislators Dennis meets with has been generally positive: “Our legislators have been very supportive of STEM and CTE. They understand these programs are economic drivers and that kids need job skills to fill workforce needs. It’s just a matter of how much to spend and when.”
Dennis has strong expertise on the long-term impacts of a strong STEM & CTE education. He spent twenty years of his career as a CTE teacher in Omak focusing on photography, graphic arts, and commercial arts. In his teaching, Dennis emphasizes combining a passion for what you do with developing a marketable skill set, which is just what he did when he transitioned his arts background into teaching. Said Dennis: “My parents wanted me to be a teacher, I didn’t. But I tried it and found out they were right all along. I loved it!”
In leading by example, Dennis watched his students graduate and establish their own careers. Some of his students have become professional artists, one runs a popular flower shop in San Francisco, and others are teachers at Wenatchee Schools, working with Dennis every day.
But wait, art? Aren’t STEM and art supposed to be enemies?
“As an art teacher, I see that art is part of everything, especially STEM,” says Dennis. He emphasizes that a pleasing design is what makes engineering projects rise to the top of stacks of utilitarian but uninspiring designs. “Technology that is appealing is the most likely to succeed.”
Dennis’s desire to increase collaboration, whether it be with art and STEM, STEM and CTE, or passion and making ends meet, is a big reason he’s our featured STEM Super Advocate.
Want to know more about Dennis’s work? Visit the Wenatchee Schools CTE website.