A Da Vinci Science Center-led initiative to mentor under-served students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics -- STEM-- subjects and careers has earned national recognition and an opportunity to receive prestigious funding.

Allentown has been named one of 13 US2020 City Competition finalists - placing it in elite company among America's major metropolitan areas and providing a chance to share $1 million in grants.

The city's application -- submitted by the science center with support from civic, community and corporate partners -- offers "powerful strategies" to serve girls, low-income students and minority students.

Fifty-two cities, including nine of America's 10 largest cities, submitted applications.

US2020 seeks to reduce critical shortages of interest in STEM careers by turning one million professionals into mentors by the year 2020.

Nearly 19 percent of all jobs in the Lehigh Valley region require a high level of knowledge in STEM subjects, a number similar to the national percentage, according to a new release from the science center.

Growth in STEM jobs was three times greater nationally over the past decade than that of non-STEM occupations, according to a 2013 report by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Allentown is the smallest of the finalist cities - which include Boston, Chicago, New York,  Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Representatives from all finalist cities will attend an "ideas camp," where they will collaborate with experts and refine their strategies.

Allentown's team needs to raise $50,000 in matching funds before submitting its final application in January.

While the Allentown partners hope to pursue their initiative in some form regardless of US2020 competition results, the city's place in the finals demonstrates its capacity to produce highly-effective partnerships and programs, said Lin Erickson, the science center's executive director and CEO.

"Being a finalist in the US2020 City Competition reflects the fact that our area offers as many top-quality opportunities and has as many talented and innovative professionals and educators as anywhere in the nation," Erickson said in a news release.

"It also reflects the fact that the Allentown area offers the same level of STEM career opportunities and faces challenges similar to those throughout the United States. With baby boomers in STEM fields soon to retire, the demand for STEM workers will be even greater over the next decade."

David Smith, the science center's senior director of science and strategic initiatives, leads the city's US2020 Guiding Coalition. Allentown team partners include the city, Allentown School District, Boys & Girls Club of Allentown, Lehigh Career and Technical Institute, Air Products and Chemicals, B. Braun, , Computer Aid, PPL Corporation, St. Luke's University Health Network and Olympus America.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski says the coalition's work to provide STEM mentorship is vital to the city's continued revitalization in a time of "unparalleled opportunity."

"The city's downtown revitalization is bringing major new employers to the city with an increased demand for workers with strong STEM skills," Pawlowski said.

"The preliminary plans for the coalition make it clear that this effort will help the city meet its economic development goals and help provide a stronger economic future for Allentown's youth."

Allentown School District Superintendent C. Russell Mayo  believes the mentorship project would help level the playing field for urban students.

"The vision offered by the coalition opens important doors of opportunities for our students, many of whom lack the advantages of their suburban peers," Mayo said.

"We are very excited by the potential to expand STEM mentoring in Allentown and to develop methods for making it more available and systematic."

The coalition's corporate partners have offered support in providing mentors from their companies and using their positions as community leaders to encourage other companies to support the initiative.

US2020 is a new organization formed through a partnership of leading education non-profits and corporate leaders in the STEM field.

The initiative emerged from a White House call to generate big, innovative solutions to the nation's STEM education challenge, with a focus on increasing access to STEM careers for girls, underrepresented minorities in the sciences, and low-income children.