Keeping the STEM Pipeline Filled: Time for You to Help
Yesterday Fuentek’s Laura Schoppe participated in a forum sponsored by Honda Jet in Greensboro, N.C., where the focus was on increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. During the panel, Laura presented her concept of a pipeline that is feeding the STEM workforce and the need to address the leaks in it.
As shown in the graphic below, the pipeline has four phases: Engage (primary school), Recruit (secondary school), Retain (university), and Sustain (career). Each of these phases needs attention. Happily, Fuentek knows firsthand that there are many examples of great programs happening all along the pipeline.
Personally, I’ve seen some amazing things at my son’s elementary school Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe (FPG). This year, FPG teacher Allison Stewart led third graders in an amazing project called “First in Flight… and Beyond.” Developed while Ms. Stewart was in the Kenan Fellows Program at N.C. State University, the project engaged 8 year olds in real-world scenarios related to the research, design, and creation of spacecraft. As you can see in the fun and inspiring 5-minute video (you really should watch it!), the project turned students into not only designers, engineers, and architects but also artists, marketers, entrepreneurs, and collaborators. Partners included the N.C. Science Festival, Morehead Planetarium, aerospace engineering students from NCSU, the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society, and others.
Beyond these types of classroom-based efforts, there are lots of other programs where STEM professionals can get involved in keeping the pipeline healthy.
Longtime readers of the Fuentek blog know that we are active in Dean Kaman’s FIRST® program (FIRST=For Inspiring and Recognizing Science and Technology). What some might not realize, is that FIRST offers programs across several segments of the STEM workforce pipeline:
- Here in N.C., Laura is a longtime supporter of the FIRST Tech Challenge for 7th–12th graders and the FIRST Robotics Competition for high schoolers, which is in the midst of a March Madness of its own, with the North Carolina Regional Tournament taking place this Friday and Saturday at the Dorton Arena in Raleigh.
- Becky Stoughton is a mentor with FIRST Junior STEAM Ahead, a joint program between the Manchester, N.H. school district and FIRST, which is based in Manchester. This pilot program, currently in place in three of the district’s 14 elementary schools, is intended to result in all district 4th graders having the opportunity to be exposed to FIRST LEGO League (FLL) as part of their curriculum beginning in 2016–17 school year.
- Danielle McCulloch has gotten involved with the Junior FLL for K–3rd graders in Spokane, Washington.
I love the robotics competition, which I’ve taken my kids to the past several years. But what I really like about the two LEGO leagues is that they couple the hands-on work with a research project focused on a theme for the year, such as nanotechnology, climate, quality of life for the handicapped population, transportation, etc. This not only exposes kids to a wide range of possible careers but also provides opportunities to practice other crucial workplace skills by working successfully in teams to compete while exercising good sportsmanship.
The FLL research projects caught my attention not only because matching technology solutions with an identifiable problem is at the heart of what Fuentek does but also because of what they can lead to. Becky just told me that PickUp Patrol, a startup company involved in the Accelerate NH program, had its origins as a FIRST LEGO League research project. Awesome! (BTW, we’ll hear more from Becky about this in a future blog post.)
There’s also the Conrad Foundation Spirit of Innovation Challenge, a program for high school students to develop world-changing solutions in aerospace and aviation, cyber-technology and security, energy and environment, health and nutrition, and taking the giant leap to Mars. You can get involved as a coach, a judge, or a sponsor.
Programs are happening at the university level as well. In addition to yesterday’s forum hosted at the UNC-Greensboro and N.C. A&T State University’s Joint School of Nanoscience and Engineering, we recently learned that Yale University has launched a minority outreach program to create greater student diversity in its science programs, modeled after Ciencia Puerto Rico. These types of Retain programs at the university level are just as important as the Engage and Recruit segments of Laura’s STEM workforce pipeline.
If you have time to give, I urge you to get involved with STEM programs at whatever segment of the pipeline is most interesting to you. And if you don’t have time, do remember to encourage your children — especially girls — to explore, discover, and create!
What STEM volunteering do you do? What words of encouragement do you have to inspire others to get involved? What successful programs have you seen to keep the pipeline healthy? Add a comment below or contact me privately.