SmartBrief Education’s Path to Workforce series brings you original content and events on the topic. Path to Workforce is our vision of college and career readiness, encompassing K-12, adult learners, career changers, non-traditional students and those who forgo a traditional four-year college experience.
How can associations, organizations, schools and industry help to achieve equity in the science, technology, engineering and math workforce? Panelists addressed this and other questions during a recent SmartBrief STEM Pathways event. Here are three main takeaways from the event:
1. Little moments of inspiration go a long way.
Women are consumers of technology, users of technology and creators of technology. Although 65% of new businesses are started by women, only 8% of venture capital is secured by women, said Kathy Hurley, CEO and co-founder nonprofit Girls Thinking Global. Reaching young women in the early grades is key to addressing this disparity, she suggested. A number of programs and volunteer opportunities exist to spark interest in STEM, and female mentors can accomplish a lot just by demonstrating the diversity of jobs that are available.
2. Relevance is key.
Students can make choices about STEM as early as elementary school, and it is important to demonstrate the real-world applicability of what is learned in the classroom, said Sabari Raja, CEO and co-founder of Nepris, a platform that connects teachers and students to professionals. “Just one thing, one person, one event can inspire young women and men to pursue STEM,” she said.
Mentorships are one way to encourage students to explore STEM, but they also tend to produce 1:1 relationships that may not bear fruit for younger students. Technology can help bridge the gap between accessibility and relevance, Raja suggested. Professionals from a broad range of careers — jobs that students don’t even know that exist — can be piped in to show how STEM influences fields as diverse as fashion and manufacturing. Girls in particular can benefit from seeing how STEM can help people. Ultimately, relevance helps to humanize STEM and create a sense of belonging for all students, she said.
Makerspaces are a natural way to emphasize relevance in STEM programming, suggested Barbara Gruber, the Loudoun County Public School Aerospace educator-in-residence at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center for the 2015-16 school year. In Loudoun County, Va., some students go to a makerspace “special” each week for hands-on projects during the school day. Additionally, makerspaces don’t need to be prohibitively costly. Inexpensive materials and free online resources are enough to get students making and engaging in STEM concepts, Gruber said.
3. The workforce will need brilliant, passionate people of all stripes.
The STEM workforce will rely on both male and female, neurotypical and neurodiverse students who are college and career ready. Patrick Waters, makerEd teacher at The Monarch School in Houston, Texas, emphasized that STEM organizations in a global market will need workers with passion, drive and strong “soft” skills. Makerspaces, in addition to cultivating in-demand technical skills, also foster critical social skills in neurodiverse students, he said. Organizations and schools can leverage playful learning as a gateway to the workplace.
Stay tuned for video coverage of this event, and check out Storify to view tweets and pictures that captured the day.
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s email list for more stories about education. We offer newsletters covering educational leadership, special education and more.