What first sparked your interest in STEM?
My parents. My dad was the health inspector (he had a degree in Dairy Science), and my mom, while not a classic engineer, could fix anything – she is a great problem solver. While my dad’s college education was interrupted by getting drafted, married and having kids, he eventually got his degree, and (probably because of this) was never any question in our house that my sister, brother and I would do well in school, go to college, and have careers. When I showed an interest in science and math, they encouraged it. I’m incredibly proud of my parents and thankful for their support and push.
What aspect of STEM is most appealing to you?
Making things. I almost shifted to Aeronatical Engineering from Computer Science in college, but I really loved the problem-solving aspects of programing and debugging, and I find that programming is “making” as well. It is so gratifying to point to a mobile phone and say “my code makes your bits go from here to there” (At QUALCOMM I worked on the early wireless Internet implementation). I also do many crafts – torch worked glass, sewing, letterpress printing.
Who is your “STEM hero”?
If there is one historical person I would have loved to know, it would be Benjamin Franklin. Obviously for all his inventions, but also because he seemed to be such a tinkerer, or a maker as we would say now. And of course, he was a great politician and a printer!
How did you decide to pursue a STEM career?
I was planning to be a veterinarian, but was unsure I could deal with the pain and suffering of a medical field. Then in college I took my first programing class, and was hooked. Then later I realized I could make a living from programming. I had 8 job offers when I graduated in 1982!
How do you use STEM every day?
Our entire world is built on STEM, from the 9 -story engineered building I work in, to the mobile I carry, to the research that went into my running shoes, to the 1914 cast iron letterpress printer I make drink coasters with. And science has driven safe water in the drinks, which are produced and monitored with technology.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM – for fun or for their career?
Realize that STEM opens up an enormous field of opportunity (e.g. veterinary medicine, computer science, aeronautical engineering!), for creativity, for a career, for making the world a better place, and for producing rather than simply consuming. You don’t have to choose immediately, as long as you build the academic background and get involved in STEM.
Susan M. Armstrong started her work at QUALCOMM working on the early mobile Internet software. Recently, Armstrong has joined QUALCOMM’s Government Affairs group, where she brings an engineering and product background the Government Affairs work in worldwide public policy, including intellectual property protection, trade and immigration reform, STEM and STEM diversity. Armstrong holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
Today’s Google Doodle holds a special place in our heart -- it’s in remembrance of Sally Ride and her incredible achievements. Today, she would have been 64 years old. She was especially important to CTEq, as a founding CTEq board member in 2010. Sally’s dedication to STEM was indescribable -- breaking barriers and trailblazing a path her entire life, whether it was her work as the first female American to travel into space, or her role as an educator and reaching millions of children through her company, Sally Ride Science.
Like so many others, we were saddened by Sally’s passing, but cherish her legacy and the incredible example she set for millions of young people. Sally was an astronaut, author, educator, and friend -- simply put, she was a phenomenal woman. She was constantly searching for ways to better our environment and positively impact people’s lives. Tam O’Shaughnessy, Sally’s life partner and co-founder & CEO of Sally Ride Science, talked more about Sally’s life and the Google Doodle in her blog post here. Tam notes, in the post, “I know she would be honored by today’s Google Doodle. With whimsy, it expresses Sally’s sense of fun and adventure, and her ability to inspire young people. And who knows -- maybe her Doodle will motivate some girl or boy somewhere in the world to become a scientist and adventurer just like Sally.”
Sally was a champion for STEM education -- especially for Change the Equation -- and she continues to inspire young people to defy obstacles and reach for the stars.
See also our past tribute to Sally Ride.
We live in a digital world, yet computer science isn’t considered a core subject in most U.S. K-12 schools. So, it’s not surprising that employers are having difficulty filling computer science positions. We especially have to focus on students of color and those from low-income groups.
Source: Change the Equation analysis of U.S. Department of Education data for 2012 college graduates.
The concept of “grit” in the classroom isn’t novel, but this Washington Post article really made me reflect on my past teaching experience. The author argues that grit isn’t necessarily a good thing in an inner city classroom because socioeconomic factors are often omitted from the discussion. But, in my experience as an Algebra teacher in South Philadelphia, I can attest that many moments of students’ success would have escaped had I not helped them tap into their grit.
What exactly does that mean? “Grit,” coined by Angela Duckworth, is the persistence, determination, and resilience it takes for a child to be successful. “It's that je ne sais quoi that drives one kid to practice trumpet or study Spanish for hours -- or years -- on end, while another quits after the first setback,” says Tovia Smith, NPR News. When I needed a way to help motivate my Algebra students, many of whom faced challenging circumstances at home and in their communities, fostering grit was the answer. All too often I had to be their counselor, therapist, and friend -- as well as their teacher. But, I always knew that one of the most important roles I needed to play was motivator.
One seventh-grader in particular, Cherie, was bright but lacked confidence in her math abilities. For months, I watched her struggle with the fundamental concept of “solving for x” -- that is, applying inverse operations to isolate the variable. Every time Cherie wanted to give up, I gave her additional problems, tutored her after school (despite her discontent), and reminded her of her potential -- I became her biggest cheerleader. I’ll never forget her breakthrough moment -- every teacher’s dream. And she didn’t forget it either. Cherie is now wrapping up her sophomore year at the University of Virginia and headed to Vanguard for a summer internship. She recently shared this with me via Facebook, “I'm so glad we've been able to keep in touch. Part of why I like math so much is that I had great teachers in elementary school like you. Math in high school was different but having a foundation and having established a love of studying math made me pursue and always find ways to make it fun.”
Cherie, like many other young people in inner cities across the country, was like a pearl in an oyster -- we have to polish it to see its full beauty. Helping students tap into their grit and acknowledging the socioeconomic factors that impact their lives daily are not mutually exclusive. Both factors can and should be discussed, with the caution that socioeconomic factors should never be an excuse for expecting less. Nor should they interfere with the valuable life lessons educators teach in the classroom. Every child, regardless of economic background, should be taught the value of determination, hard work, and resilience -- grit -- as it pertains to academics. We’re doing our young people a disservice if our teachers aren’t willing or able to ignite their grit.
Program Specialist, Change the Equation
Teachers are lacking the tools and resources they need to adequately teach science, particularly in urban school districts. “Elementary teachers are much more confident in their ability to teach mathematics than in their ability to teach science,” noted the National Science Foundation.
For more facts and figures on STEM in the classroom, be sure to check out all of the STEMtistics focused on teachers to help advocate for STEM.