July 10, 2012
By Maddie Chard
Southern Methodist University
Last week, Innovate+Educate along with U.S. News hosted a STEM education summit in Dallas, Texas. As a summer intern at Innovate+Educate, I was lucky enough to be able to attend some of the sessions.
In between working at the Summit I got to walk around and look at the booths, as well as sit in and listen to a panel of experts discussing how culture, ethnicity and demographics effect STEM education. The panel consisted of Peter Cunningham, the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach for the U.S. Department of Education, Bernard Harris, Jr., the President and Founder of The Harris Foundation and Betty Shanahan the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Women Engineers. While it was great to be able to see all three of these accomplished people speak, getting the opportunity to listen to Betty Shanahan was especially exciting for me as a woman engineering major.
The panel mainly discussed the problems that minorities face in STEM education, and how this is a contributing factor of the shortage of people pursuing degrees in these fields. The panel discussed many different solutions that could possibly be implemented and resources that could help us to achieve those solutions. I am amazed by the amount of people that I saw in the audience at this panel that have made it their mission to help children achieve their goals. Attending this panel made me realize the many problems we face in all STEM fields, but it also made me recognize how many people are fighting to overcome these difficulties.
On the second day of the summit, I got to participate in the Youth Summit that was put on by Young Invincibles and Innovate+Educate. Young adults from many different locations in Texas came to talk about their experiences in STEM education, as well as difficulties facing other students.
After listening to speeches from both Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler and female astronaut Sandy Magnus, the entire Youth Summit got to sit in on a call from Andre Kuipers, an astronaut who was then on the International Space Station! Many of the kids at the summit even got to ask him their own questions. It was really an amazing experience, and to think about the technology that allowed us to talk to an astronaut who was in outer space is quite mind-blowing!
Several STEM professionals were also brought in to the summit to talk to groups of students and to discuss STEM careers. The group I was in talked to Jami Grindatto, the director of Talent Marketing and Sourcing Solutions at Intel. He gave great, specific advice to everyone in the group based upon what career path they were heading down. However, the best advice that he gave was to everyone in the group. He told us all that the most important thing that we can do is to find the thing in life that is our passion and to do whatever that is, because that is what will end up making us truly happy in life. This advice was the best thing that I took away from the summit, and someday I hope that every student will be able to follow the career dreams that they have.
I chose to get my bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering before I knew anything about the STEM workforce gap. To be completely honest, I chose to pursue this degree because I had no idea what I wanted to do and I have always been good at and enjoyed math and science more than any other school subject. But as I started to take the introduction classes, I found that I was actually really interested in the building of public structures, such as buildings and bridges.
The biggest reason that I had never considered a degree in engineering before that was that I had never heard anything about it before. In school I was never told about any options that I had to pursue a degree having anything to do with math or science. In my High School AP physics, I was one of three girls and honestly, I was never really taken seriously. This was one of the biggest things that turned me off from thinking about a degree in a STEM related field.
After attending the panel, I thought back to my own STEM experiences in high school and I understood that even in a high school like mine, where the dropout rate is extremely low, many students take AP courses and the test scores are relatively high, there are many factors that keep students from going after STEM careers. In my opinion, changing the stereotypes surrounding STEM jobs is one of the best things that we can do in order to close the STEM gap. The problem was never that I didn’t want a job in a STEM-related field, but rather because I did not fit the prejudices that people have of engineers, the possibility never even occurred to me.
I was so lucky to have been a part of both the STEM education summit, as well as the youth summit. Although I am pursuing a STEM-related degree, I never truly realized how important jobs in these fields were to our future, or all the problems we face in getting students into these careers. I hope that someday the gap that STEM education will be able to overcome the myriad of obstacles facing it today.