Supporting STEM in Our Schools: The Power of Community
Every day I’m amazed at the technical skills students are developing at the high-school level — from hands-on collaborative design and prototyping to systems simulations and custom fabrication with CNC machining and additive manufacturing. I’ve been working with a local public high school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program for several years as a mentor for a competitive robotics and rocketry club.
We are fortunate that our school is extremely supportive of these activities and can provide the space -- and even some equipment. But schools are not resourced to fully sponsor technical robotics and rocketry. There are just too many other demands on their resources. Our school is not alone in this situation. Let’s face it, these advanced programs are expensive. Corporate and individual donations are more important than ever.
These skill-building opportunities don’t just happen; it takes a community working together. While funding is crucial, these programs would never get off the ground without passionate mentors who volunteer their time. They help with all aspects of STEM programs across technology, design, and fabrication, while also helping students develop leadership and project management skills. The students I’ve worked with are incredibly well prepared to begin their college level studies when they complete high school. Last year, several of the seniors in our program obtained professional-level certifications in advanced CAD tools. One of them used their skills to design and fabricate — from scratch — custom test fixtures for a materials science company over the summer. This job had been assigned to a full-time engineer who had to take a sudden leave of absence.
Every day the world is more technology driven, which brings both new challenges and new ways to address them. The solutions will require extremely creative, skilled scientists and engineers. Consider Robotics Process Automation, or RPA. This technology is expected to be a big disruptor in 2020 and beyond. Engineering coursework and practical applications like robotics and rocketry will be more important than ever before.
We can help the next generation be ready by stimulating interest to develop their skills early. STEM programs help do just that by creating a foundation of knowledge so college work is more enriching, building on existing skills and interests. But the reality today is that schools are underfunded and only able to teach the foundational skills like math and science. That means we all need to be involved to support, mentor, fund, and inspire our young people. Schools can’t afford to pay for these projects in their entirety, so it has to be a team effort with the schools, the families, the local community, and the local businesses all working together.
Think about it. Some of these students will become the real-life superheroes who solve giant problems in our world. But first, it’s up to us to give them a solid head start.