Three Southwest Washington students have been selected as STEM Rising Stars by their local career-connected learning networks. The Washington STEM Rising Star Awards highlight the young thinkers, scientists, engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs who will become the next generation of STEM leaders.

The three regional STEM Rising Stars are:

Audrey Zdunich

Audrey Zdunich from R.A. Long High School: Representing Columbia River STEM Network

Lexi Manning

Alexis Manning from Pacific Crest Innovation Academy: Representing the Gorge STEM Network

Kaylee Kirkelie

Kaylee Kirkelie from Ridgefield High School: Clark County STEM Network

The three students each receive a $250 stipend from Career Connect SW, a swag basket from local partners, and invitations to attend the Network Awards Reception on June 6, 2022, where one regional Rising Star will be selected. The regional winner will receive a $500 stipend and will assume a year-long role representing Southwest Washington alongside ten other STEM Rising Stars from 11 Washington STEM Partner Networks across the state.

“All of the nominees represent incredibly bright and accomplished STEM-focused students,” said Vickei Hrdina, Executive Director of Career Connect SW. “Of course, this is a major personal accomplishment, but more broadly it serves as an inspiration for all girls to reach for the stars and embrace STEM!”

In total, 13 students were nominated from local STEM networks across Southwest Washington. The students were nominated for the STEM honor by educators, business leaders, and others in their local communities based on their involvement and passion for STEM academics and activities.

The awards serve as a way to encourage young women to embrace STEM education and explore the ways it will support their education, career, and personal development.

Nominees were considered based on the following criteria:

  • Their participation in STEM activities in or outside of the classroom (robotics, 4-H/ag science club, computer science group, etc.)
  • Their development or creation of STEM projects in or outside of the classroom (website development, business ventures, STEM-related art, etc.)
  • Their use of STEM as a means of service to their community and/or family (tutoring, volunteering with a STEM-based community program, etc.)
  • Their general passion for learning and exploring topics in STEM
  • Their academic excellence, particularly in STEM-focused subjects (exceptional grades or evaluations in a STEM course/class or overall)

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Career Connect Southwest (CCSW) is one of nine regional career-connected learning networks under the larger Career Connect Washington (CCW), as well as a partner network of Washington STEM. Formerly known in the ESD 112 region as the Southwest Washington STEM Network, they have realigned their services to more effectively meet the career development needs of all of Southwest Washington’s youth.

CCSW has three local networks spanning six counties that are all committed to working with education, business, and community partners to further the goals of CCW while focusing on the specific opportunities and needs of the region.

For more information about CCSW, please contact:

Vickei Hrdina, Executive Director, Career Connect SW, 360-952-3427 |