STEM – ever heard of it? I am guessing you have. The acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is a focus for many programs funded at the federal level. And for good reason. As our world continues to become more complex, it is critical that we have the knowledge, skills and abilities to solve tough problems. By studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), we develop the skills to innovate and build solutions.
I had the recent privilege of participating in Leadership West Michigan, a program designed to provide regional leaders with tools to lead, versus manage, change. Throughout the class, we were inundated with evidence that the pipeline of young people pursuing STEM education is continuing to decrease. Drastically. So we suffer from a shortage of both students and teachers proficient in these fields.
In my role at Springthrough, I face this talent shortage. It is increasingly harder and harder to find people with the knowledge, skills and abilities to solve complex problems. And, as a mother, I encourage my children to participate in activities and classes that promote further education in the STEM fields because I see the value it provides.
However, I find myself consistently challenged by the lack of opportunity for meaningful experiences for my children in this space. Sure, they have access to technology in their classrooms. Sure, they are measured by how quickly they multiply and divide. And sure, they are given class projects that combine both science and engineering. But the curriculum falls short of empowering the students with ways to think, ways to solve problems. The classes are outcome-based - Did he complete the project? Did he complete the project on time? Not, did he take the principles and apply them to solve a problem?
This curriculum gap, from my experience, is not narrowed or widened based on gender. I have four children; two boys and two girls. The current STEM curriculum is lacking in how to apply their knowledge and skills. I see this for all four of my kids (in two different school districts). So while I value the attention being placed on women in STEM (as a woman in STEM), I think the attention should be placed on diversity of thought…and the ability to think, male or female.
“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.” -- President Barack Obama, February 2013
I believe we need to take the emphasis off of gender in this equation and focus on creating meaningful experiences that result in a student’s ability to think. We need to equip that student with skills to solve complex problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information.
There isn't much help in telling girls to be a “nerd”, either. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying “encourage them (girls) to *be* the nerd in their school". Again, the focus should be on providing experiences that teach students how to think. All students. Neither girls nor boys have to be “nerds” to be able to think.
The research shows a significant decline in the number of students (both male and female) entering the STEM fields. Additionally, projections show that the number of jobs in STEM has, and will continue to, increase over the next 10 years.
So, what do we do? I can tell you what I am doing.
I am working to educate myself and others on the effects of the talent shortage.
I am promoting activities like Bitcamp (Springthrough is hosting an event next week).
I am pushing my kids to apply what they are learning in their classrooms to their everyday lives.
And I am connecting with my peers to provide meaningful experiences in classrooms, like the Hour of Code (another event where our Springthrough developers volunteer).
This gap won’t be solved overnight and it won’t be solved until we are all participating on some level. Start at work. Start at home. Just start working to make a difference.