Manufacturer Steven Goldthwaithe says schools need to reengineer their approach to STEM education and show the excitement of working in these fields Here 4th through 8th grade students operate a radiocontrolled drone at an event designed to promote STEM careers US Navy photo by Greg VojtkoReleased

Overhauling STEM Education for the 21st Century

Oct. 6, 2014
Schools, businesses and civic organizations all have important roles to play in once again making the United States a leader in STEM education.

It is time to do a collective gut check so America breaks the rut that is keeping many young people from thriving in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

There are millions of good paying, high-quality jobs available to those with a STEM education today. And STEM jobs are central to the country’s economic growth, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting that STEM workers account for over 50% of America’s sustained economic growth.

Too often, though, we lose sight, or even ignore, how fascinating and wondrous STEM education can be, especially for the young. By placing greater emphasis there, and focusing on that dynamic of the STEM challenge, we can take a new approach to STEM education and once and for all return America to being a STEM leader.

The key is to demonstrate that a STEM education means vast opportunities in interesting, dynamic and collaborative fields. Educators, business organizations and civic groups all have critical roles to play.  

Steven Goldthwaite: "STEM is not only the basis for the jobs of the future – but the entrepreneurs of the future."

The generation of young people who today love smart phones, iPads and seemingly all things information technology already shows a predisposition to STEM education. Indeed, the influx of computer algorithms into the science and mathematics fields is driving changes in research and development and leading to the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States.

Having a STEM education today opens the doors to being on the cutting edge of 3-D printing and working on advanced robotics which have practical applications in the home and work place. It is time to once and for all end the perception that STEM involves focusing on boring, impersonal, mind-numbing statistics and calculations and that it is primarily for rote manufacturing and government projects.

STEM is not only the basis for the jobs of the future – but the entrepreneurs of the future. Those who understand fluid dynamics, algorithms and advanced computing will be most likely to open the doors to the most valuable innovations of the 21st century.

To get there, though, we need to break the status quo.

A recent study by U.S. News & World Report and Raytheon found that the number of American jobs requiring math or science knowledge increased to 16.8 million in 2013, from 12.8 million in 2008. High-school students’ interest in those subjects, however is plummeting, and lower than in 2000.

Schools, businesses, and civic organizations all have important roles to play.

Many colleges and high schools need to re-engineer their approach to STEM education by showing the practical, real-world benefits and excitement of working in these fields. This means overhauling curricula, thinking broadly and expansively about internship programs, and engaging businesses and professional organizations in the community.

Too often programs that are rooted in the theoretical and removed from true real world experience and excitement only undergo perfunctory re-branding, resulting in the programs essentially staying unchanged. There are many positive new approaches, though, that schools can take by working with businesses and civic groups.

Businesses need to get in on the ground level of these programs. This means working with schools to articulate employment and skill set needs; establishing structured, substantive, and exciting internship programs; and regularly offering “real world” speakers in classrooms and laboratories.

Civic organizations, including professional associations, can also make major contributions. In particular, the Boy Scouts are displaying innovative and very effective leadership in promoting STEM education.

The Boy Scouts now offer over 60 STEM related merit badges. STEM content is now often in every facet of scouting. From summer camp to the pinewood derby, programs explore STEM principles and practical real-world applications. Indeed, the Boy Scouts have pioneered numerous STEM programs with prominent educational institutions such as MIT and Carnegie-Mellon to promote STEM education.

Yes, this will benefit the economy. More importantly, it will ensure quality jobs and a very interesting future for millions of young people.

Steven Goldthwaite is CEO of Metem Corp. and chairman of a Boy Scouts Council which oversees activities for 19,000 scouts. Metem provides advanced machining and engineering solutions for turbine engine components in the power generation and aerospace industries.

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