Have We Lost Our Appetite for Exploration?

Have We Lost Our Appetite for Exploration?

We don’t have enough tech talent to fill available jobs – and the gap will widen.

To fill current roles, we’re partnering to upskill veterans for high-tech digital manufacturing jobs. But what about the jobs we’ll need to fill in 5, 10 and 20 years? 

We have to reach kids in elementary school, and even younger, and make STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) as exciting to them as the space race was to the children of the 1960s – the people who became today’s engineers, scientists and inventors.

What Comes After the Space Race?

When I ask kids in elementary school whether we’ll get to Mars, without a pause they say yes.

It’s not until they’re older and real-world constraints such as money factor into their thinking that they decide all the reasons we might not achieve the goal.

What concerns me is not how kids work through reality; rather, it’s how quickly excitement about exploration fades as children get older.

In the 1960s, getting to the moon was all people could talk about. Several movies highlighted how we problem-solved our way there. (The most recent, Hidden Figures, is one of my favorites because it details how critical women were to the effort.)

It was a race between countries, but it was also a race against time to do something we’d never done before.

Now that we’ve achieved that goal, what’s replaced it?

It’s Not About Winning

Exploration – whether space, deep sea, or our own minds – is crucial to our advancement because that’s how technology is developed and adapted.

The urgency is not about crossing an imaginary finish line first. It’s about what we’re doing collectively to encourage kids to get involved at all.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, although just as many girls as boys are completing high-school level education, and more women graduate from university worldwide than men, women remain a minority in the STEM fields.

In the U.S., for example, women earn only about 35 percent of the undergraduate degrees in STEM, a number that has remained unchanged for the past decade, even though they account for almost 60 percent of college graduates.

How can we get more students, and especially girls, interested in STEM?

Three Things Inspiring Exploration

To bridge the skills gap and inspire students to study STEM, we need:

  1. Role models. Mentors, coaches and volunteers are crucial to the success of any program (like FIRST). When students identify with someone in the field, they are more likely to see themselves in a STEM career.
  2. Financial and product support. Kids who have access to the latest technology become comfortable using it, and even take that technology in new directions.
  3. Early exposure. If we introduce student to FIRST LEGO League Jr. (a non-competitive robotics program) in the first grade, they’ll have 12 years of STEM exposure by the time they get to college.

Is Any Age Too Young for STEM?

No.  Young children are naturally curious. In my presentations to classrooms I reference The Internet of Mysterious Things, called by author Lisa Seacat DeLuca ‘a children’s book with a touch of technology.’

The book uses embedded NFC tags to help young people learn about the underlying technologies for the Internet of Things (IoT). The book encourages imagination while providing age-appropriate explanations of home automation. 

This is where exploration starts. It’s up to us to make sure it never stops. And then, just imagine where our students might race to next.

Jay Flores
Posted August 14, 2017 By Jay Flores, STEM Ambassador, Rockwell Automation
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