Intel’s Carlos Contreras said they often don’t know that engineering can be a creative process—or even what engineering is.

Would you buy a deodorizing shoe rack? How about one that suggests outfits to go with your footwear?

To a layperson, brainstorming about how to build a better shoe rack might not look like engineering.

But working together to create new things is part of engineering, and Carlos Contreras of Intel said young people need to get that message. He said they often don’t know that engineering can be a creative process—or even what engineering is, exactly.

“In a survey of teens, we find that they have high regard for engineering as a profession, but don’t know what engineers do or how much they make,” he said.

That’s important to Contreras, who is Intel’s education manager. The company recently had to pay $100,000 to Sandoval County, N.M., because its Rio Rancho plant failed to hire enough local employees, which Intel officials said was owing to a lack of qualified applicants, particularly those with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Contreras said this is a problem nationally.

“This is really a big national issue that everyone is grappling with,” Contreras said. “For every available STEM worker, there are two openings.”

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Throughout New Mexico and the rest of the nation, groups from Intel, the national science labs, universities, and other organizations are trying to get students more interested in such subjects and get them qualified for high-tech jobs.

It’s an issue experts say starts in the early grades, where many students don’t get enough hands-on science projects, so they decide at a young age they don’t like science.

Some teachers and students say this is because increased emphasis on reading and math, which are measured on high-stakes tests, has squeezed the time spent on science. And although math is tested and is a building block of science and engineering, New Mexico’s emphasis in recent years has been on improving reading scores.

According to the most recent state standardized test scores, only 43 percent of students statewide can do math at grade level.

State education chief Hanna Skandera said she believes reading is a key building block for all other skills, but she plans to roll out some STEM initiatives soon.

Russ Fisher-Ives, who runs a nonprofit focused on those subjects and who co-founded the state’s largest robotics competition, said adding emphasis on math isn’t enough, because students need science to see math in action.