Multiple anecdotes do not equal data. So this post consists of, let’s call them “observations” instead of “anecdotes,” about STEM (short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and the alleged lack of STEM-equipped workers in the pipeline.
There are success stories in promoting STEM education to middle schoolers. In one small, remote Alaskan village, all six middle schoolers worked on a project to harvest a beetle-ravaged forest to provide much needed energy. (Bugging Out Over STEM Education, Kids Turn Beetle Infestation Into Energy Source.)
In Virginia, a team of middles schoolers could not even make a bridge out of soda straws and marshmallows. They wound up quite apathetic:
…those [STEM] subjects are far down on our list of career interests. Why our apathy? First, while we hear science and math careers are fun, interesting, and well-paying, the actual scientists and engineers who visit our schools seem very one-dimensional. (from an eighth grade STEM student in “Is a Career in STEM Really for Me?” IEEE Spectrum)
Are we really that one-dimensional? I have to say that was my impression before I started college too. So I took a broad range of classes outside the electrical engineering curriculum including anthropology, psychology, sociology, and more. But I still graduated as a shy, introverted, thing-oriented engineer. (The fact that I can now instruct a large group of students in our PROFINET one-day training classes still amazes me.) Which brings me to…
If engineers are born, not raised, I’m a prime example. Before getting my BSEE, I explored digital computers in high school – of course they weren’t quite as sophisticated as today’s technology. (Here’s an ad for the one I used.) I’m part of a long line of engineers. My grandfather was a lubrication engineer, my father was an electronics tech (The Smell of the Rosin; The Roar of the Amplifier), one of my sons was born to program computers, the other son has his masters in civil engineering, and some of my grandchildren are headed for technical fields as well. In fact, the oldest grandson (Totally Cool) will graduate next year with a BS and MS in robotic engineering. His summer job is programming the interface for high school students to use in FIRST robotics. And his younger brother is headed technical too (video). Both of these boys latched onto FIRST robotics early on. (If you’re not familiar with FIRST robotics, Bill Lydon wrote about it in InTech, “Growing future automation professionals.”) There may be something to this heredity thing.