Ensuring Future STEM Professionals: Involvement is Key!

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STEM has certainly surpassed buzzword status.  A few years ago, you’d likely have to expand on the acronym by adding Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but it’s almost an insult now to assume people don’t know what’s up.  That tells me efforts to increase awareness are working!

My first exposure to STEM education and the related workforce issues came from the ASQ community, my own difficulty finding engineers for work projects, and then later when I had children of my own and saw things from an entirely different perspective.

This month’s View From the Q  via ASQ incorporates some great ideas for “Ensuring the Next Generation of STEM Professionals.”  I have a few more to add and/or expand on:

School Involvement (Individual & Organizations)

Both my son and daughter are in elementary school.  Last year, I worked with the principal to recognize and support Manufacturing Day. I did the same for Hour of Code and think both raised awareness and generated interest among students and parents.  It took very little effort, and the school welcomed the idea. Outside of this, the school’s STEM focus was the county science fair requirements that are unfortunately perceived as more of a chore than an enriching experience.  I think most institutions just need a seed planted to be able to further support the effort.

Action: Email and/or call the schools and ask them if they’re doing anything for Manufacturing Day, Hour of Code, or what else they’re doing to support STEM education.

Having some experience with the Middleton Magnet High School STEM Advisory Board, I know at that level they even go as far as scheduling manufacturing visits, engaging local speakers and hosting events.  Our local ASQ chapter has participated in a few of these and continues to support their efforts.  As a “pre-collegiate academy for STEM,” Middleton welcomes local organizations to join their Advisory Board and are very good at responding to the needs of the community.  There are so many ways parents and local businesses can get involved in schools like this to make a difference.

Action: Encourage employers to get involved with STEM schools by supporting internships, volunteer hours, various events, etc.  

Parent Support 

Scheduling for summer or whenever school is out is a challenge.  If the kids are going to be out of school, I want them involved in something fun and stimulating.  To support STEM education, I continue to schedule camps at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) .  Over the years, my kids have learned how to program video games, design and use 3D printing technology and even design and build robots.  They have so much fun, and the cost is reasonable.  MOSI, and many of the other STEM related school-break camps (like FLATE) have scholarships available as well.  Supporting places like MOSI also keeps them in business where they are able to make a significant impact in the community!

Action: Don’t count on schools to be the only source of STEM education. To really stimulate a kid’s interest in these fields, get them into camps that let them do the stuff hands-on and hang out with other kids that are interested in similar things.  

Oh, have your older kid take What’s Your STEM Type? to match careers or otherwise assess their skills and aptitude.  They’ll likely find a niche that gets them over the “it’s too hard” hurdle.  Or, they’ll realize a career opportunity they hadn’t thought of.

Action: Help our youth realize the benefits of entering STEM fields… Show them their options and allow them to assess their natural aptitude.  There are usually local events hosted by the colleges that allow students to speak with engineers and others in STEM fields.  USF just held their annual Engineering Expo that I heard great things about! These activities support their own enthusiasm and drive which is the foundation of success.

Some additional education resources include:

Khan Academy – Also check out Salman Khan’s TED talk related to STEM education and the creation of this how-to video library.

TED Ed  – I love these for the “car line” in the morning. They also give you everything you need to get a club started at school if time and resources exist.

Volunteer 

Last summer, I volunteered for a Girl Scout STEM camp as a SWE representative. That was a fun (and exhausting) few hours! My employer supported it, and I had an opportunity to make a difference.  We know we need more girls engaged with STEM, and the Girl Scouts are on their way towards fully integrating this goal.  (Organizations like FLATE, as mentioned previously, offer girls-only camps as well.)

Each year, there’s the National Teach-In where many schools invite people in from the community to discuss what they do.  It’s both rewarding and fun to participate in this event. Even if you’re not directly in a STEM field, perspective from any position in an organization providing STEM related products/services is beneficial. I work in marketing for a 3rd party quality control organization.  I like to introduce students to the importance of quality and the engineers that are so important to that process.

Action: There are all kinds of ways you can volunteer to support and encourage kids to enter and succeed in STEM fields. It’s worth the time. It’s everyone’s job to ensure the long-term sustainability of our workforce.

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