If you’re reading this, you probably understand the importance of STEM education and diversification in this increasingly critical and developing field. However, I believe that many of us don’t explain the full picture of why STEM is important.
STEM is too often described as an adjective, when it should in fact be regarded as a verb.
Equipping young people with STEM skills is key to their development as a critical thinkers and problem solvers. The ability to strategically approach, understand, and solve a problem are critical tools in performing well in a technical job. We challenge the Googles, Facebooks, and Twitters of the world to hire women and people of color to diversifying these professional STEM spaces. However, outside of being competitive for these technically demanding, high-paying jobs, we don’t discuss the opportunities, economic, professional, and personal, that exist for those with a strong STEM foundation.
Landing a good job fall shorts of reaching STEM’s full potential. In that instance, STEM is a tool solely used to support someone else’s vision becoming a reality. In actuality, “doing” STEM gives students the ability to dream their own dreams and bring reality to their own visions of the world, many of which have not yet been considered.
In fact, I’d argue that without depicting STEM as a conduit for the execution of conceived ideas (successful or not), we aren’t teaching STEM; we are teaching students how to memorize STEM.
To help students truly unlock the full potential of STEM education, we have to ask them to use their imagination for creation, and guide their creations into reality. This will lead to the development of ideas not yet thought of by the Facebooks and Googles and Twitters of the world. This will lead to the development of ideas that speak to themselves, their peers, parents, and communities. This will lead to the diversification of STEM.
A Message to the Mentors
Have your mentees seen people who look like them develop innovative ideas into innovative companies? Have they been coached to believe they can create the future? As mentors, perhaps the most important task you have is to instill the belief in your mentees that they are capable of making their own visions into reality. We need to give them the confidence to know that the future that exists in their minds can become a reality, and inform them that if they so choose, they can be the future leaders of the STEM world. Simply stated, we have to be intentional in helping our mentees understand the entrepreneurial component of STEM and not shy away from the fact that there are countless economic opportunities for those who develop innovative products into innovative companies.
I know that talking about money and economic opportunities with young people is somewhat taboo. We want them to chase their dreams and worry about the money later, right? I get it, but the reality is that while you’re not discussing the economic opportunities that can exist through technical innovation, your mentee is hearing about the NFL and NBA contracts, singing and modeling deals. They’re seeing the houses and lifestyles of celebrities, and for many mentees, especially those who weren’t raised with money, this becomes alluring. It’s up to us to show our mentees that STEM is a way for them to solve problems, create the future, and provides even greater economic opportunities than what exists for celebrities and professional athletes. In order to increase the underrepresented population presence in the STEM world and create sustainable changes, we have to change the way we talk about STEM and the rewards of investing time and energy in “doing” STEM, the verb.