Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to education and how teachers can inspire different things in different students. It could also relate to grading schools and giving funding based on how the teachers and schools perform.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Having worked in the high-tech industry for the past 30 years, I have witnessed the importance of a sound education based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Collectively, these disciplines are known as STEM and the acronym has become the rallying point to drive awareness around the projected shortage of workers that we are starting to see in this country. In some circles, the letters D or H (STEM-D or STEM-H) are added to the mix to single out the need for more design and health care professionals.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM-related jobs have grown three times faster than jobs outside of this grouping. Individuals working in STEM-related fields are less likely to experience joblessness than their counterparts and command higher salaries. Other interesting facts about STEM-related positions include:
n There were 7.6 million STEM workers in the United States, representing about one in 18 workers, in 2010.
n STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent through 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.
n More than two-thirds of STEM workers have at least a college degree, compared to less than one-third of non-STEM workers.
n STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations.
Last year, James Gates, director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland at College Park, and Chad Mirkin, professor of chemistry, medicine and engineering at Northwestern University, co-authored an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. They pointed out that if the United States hopes to maintain its leading position in STEM-related fields, we must produce approximately 1 million additional workers over the next decade. That’s 1 million more than we are on track to deliver.
Some of these individuals will likely come from countries such as India and China, which have more students graduating in these fields than we have currently enrolled — providing we can resolve the H1 Visa debate in this country. Others will come from segments of our population that have traditionally stayed away from STEM-based careers, mainly female students.
The Journal website featured a story that points out that many females in the U.S. simply are not interested in STEM careers (“Engaging Girls in STEM,” Bridget McCrea, 2010). The most alarming aspect of this story is that nothing has changed in the past 10 to 20 years in this country. If this were a gender-specific issue, we should be seeing similar trends in other countries, but this does not appear to be the case. This begs the questions: What are we doing wrong from an educational perspective, and how do we correct this problem?
It’s interesting that females who do take an interest in STEM subjects in middle school and high school tend to drift to other interests in college. This continuing trend is raising red flags across academia where teachers and administrators are struggling to get female students more interested in careers related to STEM. While this is troubling, we do have an opportunity to change our approach in how we introduce and maintain interest in STEM fields.
The great thing about technology is the ability to push the limits on how subjects are introduced and taught. In May 2012, Stanford University President John Hennessy predicted the death of the lecture hall as university education moves online in an article for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Spectrum magazine. The article caused a great amount of debate in the industry, but Hennessy is simply pointing out the inevitable in terms of the changing educational landscape and how students learn.
Students today have more access to technology and connectivity than ever before. The advances in content creation and delivery offer new hope in terms of how students learn and interact with the environment around them. Let’s face it, students know how to hit the pause button, how to speed up or slow down content delivery to match their individual learning styles and how to use interactive models to enhance their understanding of the world around them.
Today’s technology platforms are simply more approachable and not just the domain of geeky teenage males. We have the ability to combine classroom educational experiences with the use of advanced technology to help bridge the gap for learners regardless of age, race or gender. Holding interactive sessions with classmates around the world should be the norm, not the exception. Being able to introduce new subject matter online in electronic classrooms, like Stanford, opens up new educational opportunities regardless of who you are or where you live.
A good example of how these changes in technology are being used in a positive manner can be found at North Cross School, where students have most of their textbooks on iPads. This provides the student with a rich interactive learning environment where teachers and students can collaborate together to explore the arts and sciences. Add in interactive whiteboards, high-speed Internet connections and a challenging curriculum that focuses on science, mathematics, arts and the humanities, and it is easy to see why this school continues to place nearly 100 percent of its students in top colleges and universities.
It is simply amazing to see the creativity of both the students and the teachers who are using these tools, but this is only a small subset of what is available. North Cross and other schools throughout the region are partnering with programs like the Institute of Creativity, Arts and Technology at Virginia Tech to take STEM to the next level. ICAT is one of the seven research institutes at Virginia Tech consisting of a collection of artists, designers, engineers and scientists coming together in a living laboratory that fosters creativity and promotes critical reflection. Innovative approaches like the ICAT will encourage more students to explore STEM fields.
This summer, Virginia Tech will sponsor the STEMulate Your Imagination Conference. This three-day institute is designed to engage K-12 teachers in problem-based and design learning scenarios that integrate state-of-the-art technology and content. The teams will create solutions to problems or challenges posed by members of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. The content in each of these sessions is designed to enhance the scenario-based activities to ensure that we help teachers create curricula that meet the needs of all learners. The institute will be held June 24-26 at the Hotel Roanoke and Roanoke Higher Education Center, along with meetings on-site at the RBTC member companies.
These are a couple of examples of how we are addressing the STEM problem here in Southwest Virginia. While we have much work ahead of us, it is gratifying to see that the foundation is being laid in our local community to help solve this important issue.
Imagine if we can create an environment where students embrace exploring the question “what if” instead of focusing on Standards of Learning testing techniques. A new paradigm where both males and females embrace the promise of a career in a STEM field.
Together we can help the students of Southwest Virginia take advantage of this emerging opportunity while helping us maintain our competitive edge in the world of technology and future scientific innovation.
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