STEM Education, is it worth it?

A STEM education is a pathway to prosperity--not just for you as an individual but for America as a whole. However, many believe that too many Western jobs are being lost to cheaper-labor bastions like China or India. James Brown, executive director of the STEM Education Coalition says that our country's current and future economic prosperity and ability to innovate absolutely depend on a robust, high-quality STEM workforce. If we are to keep up with our global competitors, we must step up our nation's efforts to improve and encourage STEM education.

In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the U.S., or about 1 in 18 workers; STEM jobs are expected to grow 17% from 2008 to 2018, compared with less than 10% growth for non-STEM occupations; STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts; STEM degree holders earn more, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM jobs.

We see that STEM education is very important to our country's current and future economic prosperity, so what is driving our youth away from STEM careers? Is a typical STEM degree just too hard? Or is there some other disconnect?

Read "How to STEM Employment Concerns" to learn more.

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  • <p>Related article here: <a href="http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2011/08-Crisis-Corner-fill-educational-skills-gap.html">Plant Services - Teach Your Children</a>. Recently helped out with a local <a href="http://www.firstlegoleague.org/">FLL FIRST</a> summer camp... in my opinion we need to influence kids at young ages. Giving them the opportunity to "want" to enter technology fields seems a much better route. And speaking of education, this is my (and many other people's) favorite: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY">Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? - YouTube</a>.</p>

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  • <p>Writing in response to "<a href="http://www.controldesign.com/articles/2011/how-stem-employment-concerns.html">How to STEM Employment Concerns</a>," Paul Crenshaw, senior engineer, generation services, at <a href="http://www.cleco.com">Cleco Power</a>, had this to say:</p> <p>Let me see if I can help you visualize the issues facing this country's engineering and technology workforce development.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">First and foremost, the concept of mainstreaming is killing this country's educational system. At the very least, we need to identify students with substantial potential and get them out of these mainstream classrooms.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Also, young students are not getting reinforcement at home. There is little or no pre-K preparation for those outside the income thresholds. Others have too many socioeconomic issues later in their adolescent life, poor role models and limited support.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Kids do not get the individualized attention they need within the educational system, either. With increasing class sizes and numerous discipline problems, teachers can't possibly deliver the necessary quality.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">There are very few resources in these systems to teach advanced topics to students with little or no exposure. Many teachers, who have gone through the same system themselves, have limited skills because of ever-increasing experience gaps. Much of the curricula is superficial because staff members have limited exposure to a diverse set of technology and engineering experiences, leaving them ill-prepared to teach such topics in depth.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Using a computer to teach is not a technology development program. Putting a robot kit together is not engineering unless you discuss the intricate details of robotics (motion, sensors, electronics and programming).</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Lower grades need to get out of the "technology education" idea and focus instead on the fundamentals: reading, writing, math, science, problem solving and social studies. We need to take everything we've learned about educating children in the past 30-40 years and throw it out. Go back to the old methods; the new methods don't deliver results.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Kids need exposure (and challenges) at a very early age, so the concepts can be developed along the appropriate mental timeline and expanded over time to include more abstract concepts. The simplest example I can think of is the one I used: measuring cups and recipes to teach fractions in kindergarten. Unfortunately, parents don't realize these techniques work; they've been brainwashed into believing they can't contribute to the foundational education of their children. The fact is that they are the keys to success.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I taught my son some very basic algebra in first grade while his classmates were still struggling with addition and subtraction. My wife focused on early reading and basic math. So it was no surprise to us when his first-grade teacher recommended that we have him tested. </p> <p class="MsoNormal">Unfortunately, for those that do demonstrate the early intellect, by the time the advanced options will be made available, they have lost interest. My son was placed in the school's gifted program, but the resources and support are so limited in a small school (there are only two gifted students in his school). These resources need to be pooled and shared. </p> <p class="MsoNormal">To try to negate the effects of a laggard educational situation, I encourage my kids to learn on their own things they won't learn at school. For math and science, all I can do is make sure they understand the concepts, give them real-world applications, encourage them to go beyond what's being covered by applying their knowledge to problems they encounter in life.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Regarding post-secondary education, most of the well-respected universities and colleges focus on research, not education. I found that professor interest in quality of education significantly deteriorated by the time I got to my mid- to senior-level courses. I find this absolutely appalling.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Preparedness and exposure are also problems. As I began my college education, I had no real idea what electrical engineers do. I had ideas, but no exposure in science or math to what it meant to engineer a system.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Teaching of critical skills should not be taken lightly. Advanced math is essential to engineers and technologists. Calculus and differential equations in late junior and senior high school is a must for engineering and technology students. Any sign of advanced knowledge must be determined early so these skills can be taught, but our education system is not capable of this.</p>

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  • <p>Mike Woodward, product development, <a href="http://www.wendtcorp.com/">Wendt</a>, commented on "<a href="http://www.controldesign.com/articles/2011/how-stem-employment-concerns.html">How to STEM Employment Concerns</a>." Following is an edited version of his email:</p> <p>Here in Western New York, we have had a continual decline from prosperity for at least four decades-longer and more continuous than many other regions because of the flight of manufacturing businesses caused by state regulatory and tax policy and a high percentage of union participation.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">This condition causes a unique behavior with competing philosophies: Send your kid to college and you kiss them goodbye. They will not find a job locally, so they'll have to move out of state. Or send your kid to college so they can get out of this continually down-spiraling region. You will not get to see your grandchildren grow up.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">From what I'm reading, there are more and more regions of the country now in this same condition because of foreign competition for jobs. And yet, whether talking about engineers or welders, we have difficulty hiring. Where once there was a thriving, diverse manufacturing community there are now only "holdouts." Engineers or skilled tradesmen have no stability.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">In a healthy region, when one company or industry is busy, others may be slow, riding opposing market roller coasters. Workers are able to move from one company to another as the nature of the market changes over cycles generally lasting three to eight years. The pool of intellectual and productive labor moves around within a reasonably sized region.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Today, when engineers or tradesmen lose their jobs, they have to pick up and relocate to get another. That gets pretty discouraging, and will prompt many of them to steer their offspring to what appears to be a better path. We are now reaping the harvest of that mindset nationwide.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Our education system has tremendous bias toward academia. While students of my generation were exposed to all facets of potential careers, today's students are not even given the opportunity to discover where their natural bent lies. Instead, they burn through four to six years of the most valuable and efficient learning years, incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to graduate with degrees in who knows what, only to learn that they actually always wanted to work outdoors and love building things.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">The bottom line is that the availability of jobs for engineers is intimately tied to the availability of jobs for skilled tradesmen and general laborers. Jobs for all are needed for a healthy economy. It is counterproductive to greatly separate the intellect from the production. You will not have jobs for engineers if there is no place for the others to build the things they design.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">A healthy regional economy depends on strong right-to-work laws (less powerful unions), a diverse educational opportunity, reduced government interference and financial burden, and recognition that the whole is only as strong as the weakest member.</p>

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  • <p>Totally agree with the sentiment in this article by Aaron Hand. For another view on this see "Why Bad Jobs - or No Jobs - Happen to Good Workers," in an interview with author Steven Cherry in this month's IEEE Spectrum: <a href="http://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/at-work/tech-careers/why-bad-jobsor-no-jobshappen-to-good-workers/">http://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/at-work/tech-careers/why-bad-jobsor-no-jobshappen-to-good-workers/</a></p> <p>JAK</p>

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