A Modest Proposal for STEM Education

Want to Help the Future Industry Professionals? Offer to Run a Science Club for Young Students

Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

Last month, I suggested that if we want more young people entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, we needed to get off our collective duffs and do something about it. And we should.  The problem, though, is the same one that appears to be keeping many young people who watch "Modern Marvels" and visit www.howstuffworks.com from careers in STEM fields. It's a disconnect. While young people would like to be part of the scientific world, many do not have any way to hook on with an organization or a counselor who can bridge them into the career. The same is true with those of us who are willing to help. We don't know where to go or how to begin.

The obvious first choice is FIRST (www.usfirst.org/) with its Lego League and FIRST Robotics competitions. They always need volunteers; they are a very welcoming group, and it is a clearly effective organization. The good news about FIRST is that its programs get to over 50,000 young people a year. The bad news is it reaches only 50,000 young people a year.

So how do we get to the rest of them?

Well, one of the important things that FIRST has shown us is that starting to raise kids' interest when they are young is extremely effective. Yet one of the things that has been cut in elementary and middle school all over North America is science education. Experimental classes are liabilities (they are potentially dangerous), and when you couple this with the fact that the majority of elementary school teachers are surprisingly close to scientifically illiterate, it is clear why the science clubs and the hard science teaching has disappeared. What most elementary school and middle school children actually are exposed to is sociology of science—how science has affected society, and this with a decidedly negative bent.

So another venue would be for you to get some of your co-workers and approach a school (either at the elementary or middle-school level) and offer to run a science club for its students. Many won't accept, but enough will that this is another way we can effectively build back our ranks.

We cannot read editorials and say, "Somebody really ought to do something." We are the somebodies who really ought to do something.

– Walt Boyes
A science club might have a program as  simple as getting students together to watch "Modern Marvels" and talk about what they've seen and answer questions like, "How do you get a job doing that?" Start there and see where the group goes.

If you belong to a professional or fraternal organization, try putting together a scholarship for one or two high school graduates a year to study science or engineering. Even $1000 can be the difference between studying engineering or burger-flipping.

But it depends on us, each of us, all by ourselves, to do this stuff. We cannot read editorials like this and say, "Yeah, somebody really ought to do something." We are the somebodies who really ought to do something.
Trying to do this on our own can be pretty lonely, and if truth were told, daunting enough to keep most of us from starting. As Facebook and LinkedIn have shown, it is getting easier to network like minds.

So here's an offer. Let's use the ControlGlobal group on LinkedIn to network about this. Visit www.linkedin.com/groups/CONTROL Global and let us all know what you are doing to support STEM education and getting us the colleagues we need to replace us when we retire. I'll be there, and I'll publicize our efforts. If you're not a member of the group, it is easy to join. If you're not a member of LinkedIn, there are really important professional reasons, in addition to this very good one, to join.

Let's get a grass roots effort to support STEM education in elementary and middle schools going.