In last Thursday’s Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria erects, and then topples, an elaborate straw man. STEM, he claims, has become a “dangerous obsession” in the United States, because it elevates “narrow curriculum” and mere “technical training” over “broad-based learning.” Zakaria seems to think STEM education is something akin to nineteenth-century vocational training. He needs to get out more!
The vast majority of STEM advocates call for a vision of STEM education that directly contradicts Zakaria’s dystopian fears. Creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability are the rallying cries of the STEM education movement. Think High Tech High, not your grandfather’s vo-tech. When Zakaria asserts that “we are now told to defenestrate” the kind of teaching that has made the United States a world leader “in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship,” he is swatting at phantoms.
Zakaria is right to criticize the handful of public officials and others who sneer at subjects like art history or anthropology because they don’t lead to high salaries. Yet that small group does not stand for the whole STEM movement, and it certainly doesn’t justify the hyperbole of Zakaria’s claim.
More important, Zakaria is committing some of the very sins he criticizes. By characterizing STEM as “narrow expertise,” he treats it with the same kind of disdain he deplores in critics of the humanities.
Almost two years ago, CTEq CEO Linda Rosen wrote that STEM is a liberal art, just like literature or history. As Chad Orzel reminds us, STEM helps us understand what it means to be human and to live a good life. We have ample evidence that young people in the United States are falling behind in STEM. The last thing we need is a phony battle between critical academic disciplines.
We're not usually one to blow our own horn, but it's been a banner week here at Change the Equation! We've had lots going on and news to share. At Monday's White House Science Fair, President Obama, in addition to being dazzled by the projects and quizzed by a group of pint-sized Supergirl scientists, announced that CTEq would, through it's coalition of members and Corporate America, reach 1.5 million new young people with high quality STEM experiences.
We know that this is an ambitious goal, but one that we believe is absolutely attainable. And that's why, immediately following the Science Fair, we announced our new Start with STEM campaign. The campaign aims to deeply engage with corporate leadership to ensure that every young person in the U.S. gets a good start in STEM. You can participate by funding a STEMworks program, finding a volunteer opportunity, or sharing your STEM moment.
But there's more! On Tuesday, we convened a group of STEM leaders from Corporate America at the White House to discuss strategies and action steps on how to expand the reach of STEM schools. The conversation included other leaders who are "on the ground" working to ensure the success of STEM schools. A STEM school gives students rigorous, interdisciplinary, project-based STEM education, while exposing them to real-world experiences that they might encounter in the workplace.
At the meeting we heard from leaders at STEM schools like Linked Learning, Ohio STEM Learning Network, P-Tech, and National Academy Foundation about ways that the real-world, hands-on experiences that Corporate America is able to provide can enhance the learning experiences provided by these schools. A robust discussion followed, focused around ways that Corporate America can have the greatest impact, including: community-based STEM advocates; summer internships; work-based learning, and strategic funding. Chevron, Siemens, and IBM led the discussion around these topics, with other corporate leaders and CTEq members enthusiastically joining in to develop action steps for Corporate America. Be sure to stay tuned for updates as the action steps unfold.
This week was just the beginning. We've got big things planned as we aim to ensure a good STEM start for every young person in America. We hope you'll join us as we work to make this goal a reality!
What first sparked your interest in STEM?
My utter amazement at how the human body worked sparked my interest in STEM. I thought the human body was just fascinating - how it grows and heals. We take so many things the body does for granted and we often never realize how many things have to go just right. Stop for a minute and take a deep breathe, and think about all the body parts needed just to breathe. Can you imagine what parts are needed to see or to think? While studying science, I became excited about building materials that can be used in the body to repair function. I learned how we can change the structure and properties of materials to impact the way the body sees and adapts to an implanted material.
What aspect of STEM is most appealing to you?
Science is the most appealing part of STEM for me. I love applying technology to a problem to cause a step change in how we understand or interact with the environment around us. My background in materials science taught me to look at the world through the lens of structure property relationships and cause and effect interactions. I think our job as scientists and scientific leaders is to tease out the relationships that were previously unknown and allow people to do things that they never imagined would be possible.
Who is your “STEM hero”?
My STEM hero is George Washington Carver. What he did was leverage science to solve a huge societal challenge around preserving farm land. He not only promoted crop rotation and the plants to support it, but he also developed many applications for the products of those plants specifically the peanut. He created a truly societal step through science that still impacts us today.
How did you decide to pursue a STEM career?
I love figuring things out, and don't like doing the same thing twice which made science a great career choice for me. I have always been fascinated by how things work, and I am energized by solving difficult problems. I like finding solutions that make things easier.
How do I use STEM every day?
My job is to use our scientific capabilities to solve problems. It is so much fun to work with our customers, understand their needs and then find novel ways to solve their problems, sometimes in ways they are not anticipating. We then get the opportunity to take that concept that we imagined and bring it to life. There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than to see our customers do something they did not think was possible based on a technology and product we developed.
I am currently leading the development of several such technologies that we hope will have a big impact on energy conservation.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM – for fun or for their career?
I never imagined doing anything like this, but now I could not imagine doing anything else. While it can be a long road, there is nothing like seeing a person touched by something you create. Always remember that everything we see around was made by someone, why can't the next thing be from you? Never stop learning.
Dr. Terry Collier is Technology Development & Incubation Manager for 3M’s Electronics & Energy business.
Tears flowed and brackets were busted last weekend with the kickoff of March Madness. Of the 11 million ESPN brackets filled out, not a single person had a perfect bracket after the second round of games. Two of the first three games in the men’s tournament alone ruined more than 99 percent of people’s perfect brackets. While your brackets may be trashed this year, you may want to consider how a little STEM knowledge can help you pick the winning team next year.
Consider a STEM-based ranking system: the Logistic regression/Markov chain (LRMC) ranking system is a great example of a STEM-based ranking system. With its foundation in math, LRMC considers a team’s results, its schedule and, distinct from many other methodologies, how court advantages have helped a team’s season performance. The system was created, and now maintained, by mathematics professors from MIT, Georgia Tech, and the City University of New York.
Learn from past upsets: Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight developed a way to determine how big of an upset a game actually is. His methodology ranks the most upsetting opening rounds in the NCAA men’s tournament since 1985. Silver points out, “In theory, we might expect to see upsets increase as parity increases in the men’s game and the differences between the teams becomes smaller. And it might not be so surprising that there have been fewer of them in this year’s tournament, which bucked the trend toward greater parity.” The 2015 March Madness kick-off underscored this research, as we observed the better seed in 23 consecutive games land the victory.
But when all else fails…
Flipping a coin is probably your best bet: we spotted this tip from STEMworks program Project Lead the Way (PLTW), which shared research explaining that flipping a coin yields better results than carefully selecting brackets. Dae Hee Kwak, an assistant professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, flipped a coin 63 times and compared his results to the selections made by study participants in a mock tournament. Surprisingly, his average scores were better than the average of study participants.
BP’s Science of Basketball video emphasizes the value of STEM in basketball (and life), “From the classroom to the court, science is everywhere,” and March Madness is certainly no exception. Applying these tips may help you score a perfect bracket next year -- if not, at least you’ll learn a thing or two.
Timed with today’s White House Science Fair, we have launched a nationwide campaign called Start with STEM, to drive corporate dollars and volunteerism to the nation’s highest quality K-12 STEM programs and schools. The campaign is directly tied to CTEq’s ambitious 2015 goal for Corporate America to reach 1.5 million new students through these STEM education programs, as described earlier today in a White House statement.
The campaign comes at a critical moment, as the STEM skills gap continues to present serious challenges for U.S. businesses and the nation’s future prosperity. We are asking you to take action today to help us give every kid in America a good start in STEM through our Start with STEM campaign.
What can you do to give every kid a good start in STEM?
Share Your STEM Moment
Lend your voice to the growing movement around high-quality STEM experiences like those in STEMworks.
Fund a STEMworks Program
Support a program with proven impact. STEMworks includes programs to get girls and minorities hooked on STEM; hands-on engineering and robotics programs; programs to train and support teachers; programs that offer rich hands-on curriculum and materials; and programs that expose teachers and students to STEM careers.
Find a Volunteer Opportunity
Share your company’s time and talents with students in your community.