STEMbeats Blog

Technical school can offer big rewards--if you have a strong academic foundation

February 9, 2017

For a good summary of why high schoolers shouldn't pin all their college aspirations on just four-year degrees, head over toThe New York Times. Author Jeffrey Selingo mounts a strong defense of technical degrees, certifications, and apprenticeships.

Here's the money quote (quite literally):

[Georgetown University] research has found that 40 percent of middle-skills jobs pay more than $55,000 a year; some 14 percent pay more than $80,000 (by comparison, the median salary for young adults with a bachelor’s degree is $50,000).

There is a catch, however. Students who struggle academically in K-12 will face an uphill battle in technical school, and they are much less likely to land these rewarding jobs. Selingo's piece opens with a shocking anecdote:

When the German engineering company Siemens Energy opened a gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, N.C., some 10,000 people showed up at a job fair for 800 positions. But fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education.

That amounts to thousands of people who are hungry to work but lack the skills to get available jobs. As we consider how to reinvigorate communities ravaged by the loss of traditional manufacturing work, education has to be a big part of the answer.

Fortunately, some companies, like Siemens, John Deere, and Dow are tackling the challenge head on by collaborating with community colleges to create education and training programs that lead to good jobs. Check out Selingo's account to learn more.

Tags: jobs & workforce

The Iowa STEMworks Partnership may reach 100,000 students

January 25, 2017

The Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council has just selected nine STEM education programs to receive more than $3 million in state funds. That tidy sum may allow them to reach as many as 100,000 Iowa children in the 2017/2018 school year. 

Change the Equation proudly collaborated with the Council on this critical work. We help leaders in Iowa and six other states identify and scale programs that are most likely to have an impact. All too often, state funds go to programs with the glossiest brochures. Our STEMworks protocol requires programs to prove their effectiveness

Iowa used STEMworks to review STEM programs and found that nine of them are worthy of state support:

  • Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) - This high school program immerses students in inquiry-based exercises that reinforce the math and science that undergird agricultural mechanics and engineering. 
  • Engineering is Elementary (EiE) - This rigorously-researched, classroom-tested curriculum boosts elementary students’ interest and confidence in engineering. EiE is designed to encourage all children—including those from underrepresented groups—to envision themselves as potential engineers. 
  • Engineering the Future (EtF) - This curriculum for grades eight through twelve helps all students, including women and minorities, become literate in introductory engineering and technology li. Students will design, build and test prototypes while applying math, science and engineering practices, working creatively and collaboratively, and experiencing the engineering design cycle in a real-world context.
  • FIRST Robotics Competition - Facing strict rules, limited resources and an intense, six-week time limit, teams of 10 or more students must raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors.
  • Making STEM Connections - This maker program gives teachers and youths tools to inspire the “maker mentality” through safe and engaging maker experiences. Building upon the natural inclination to tinker, this program empowers participants to explore STEM principles and 21st Century Skills as they design, create and make.
  • PowerTeaching Math - PowerTeaching Math is a leader in helping teachers transform their classroom environments by using cooperative learning strategies to engage all students.
  • Project Lead The Way (PLTW): Launch - This program empowers students to adopt a design-thinking mindset in tackling real-world projects that build upon each other and relate to the world around them and reinforce academic knowledge and skills.
  • Ramps and Pathways - This program for young children nurtures engineering habits of mind as children build their own technology of marble runs; a type of Rube Goldberg machine. In the process, children grapple with the laws of physics, properties of objects, how those properties affect motion and engage in spatial thinking.
  • Spatial-Temporal (ST) Math - This game-based instructional software used by schools across the country boosts math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning. 

Iowa's approach has been paying off. Their research finds that students who participate in STEMworks programs outperform those who do not. Given that they reach roughly 100,000 students every year, that's a lot of bang for their 3.2 million bucks.

Other state STEMworks partners will soon announce their results as well. Stay tuned!

Guest Blog: Catharine Shay, Paying it Forward by Mentoring

January 25, 2017

What first sparked your interest in STEM as a career path?
Development opportunities, available experiences, and options. 

Job satisfaction has always been important to me, so when looking at career paths, I wanted to ensure that I had opportunities to continually learn and develop new skills, access to a broad range of experiences and the ability to change jobs with ease as my interests changed over the years.

When I entered college, there were very few women in engineering fields, I saw this both as a challenge and as an opportunity to pave the way for others. Engineering was a way that I could utilize my love for math to develop new technologies that address both local and global challenges. 

How did you get involved in STEM mentoring?

I did not have many STEM role models available to me as a child, during college I sought them out.  My very first mentor proved invaluable; she encouraged me to not only develop myself but also sparked my interest in developing others. This grew into a passion for me, and today I mentor students interested in pursuing STEM careers, coach mentors of students and advocate for my community through board leadership and business partnerships. 

I am very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Saint Paul Public School students through 3M STEP (Science Training Encouragement Program).  As chair of this program, I help students see how the science principles learned in the classroom are applied to create transformative products and technologies.  Through mentoring, classroom instruction and summer employment in a 3M laboratory, STEP students increase their job skills, gain insight into scientific careers, and enhance their personal development.  Paying it forward and giving back on behalf of those who spent, and continue to spend, their time mentoring me has been a big driver, and I encourage others to do the same. Building our communities to be successful in the future is important to me. STEM skills are highly transferrable and in demand – creating not only valuable but tangible opportunities for the students of today.

 

How do you leverage your experience as a mentor in your professional life?

Mentoring provides reflection and perspective and has enabled me to be a better leader. It has enhanced my problem solving skills, sharpened my critical thinking abilities, reinforced the value of listening and being mindful in my daily interactions and taught me to communicate and coach more effectively.

Much of the advice that I provide is relevant in my own life.  One common example:  I often encourage mentees to not be so hard on themselves, to be more kind to themselves – this is also a challenge for me every day.  Learning to manage expectations, of yourself and others, can be an asset to you in your career and personal life.

My love of learning also enables me to leverage my experience. The perspective that mentees can provide enables me to stay relevant and seek appropriate feedback. Once a good rapport is established, candid dialogue can occur – providing development to both the mentee and mentor.  For example, communication styles. With the feedback from my mentees, I have been able to successfully coach mentors through differing communication styles across generations.

 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM as a career path?

Seek out a mentor – or several!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue mentoring?

The same. Seek out a mentor if you do not already have one yourself! 

You also need to be prepared. It is important that you are ready to be present in the relationship, actively listen, and invest yourself in your mentee’s success. You will be providing critical insights and maneuvering unwritten rules with your mentee as they navigate the unknown. Remember:  Mentoring is not about teaching, it is about understanding and offering guidance.

I find that good mentors have long standing mentors themselves – they value the relationship and have experienced the rewards. Mentoring relationships can span a lifetime and bring growth to all involved, and I believe everyone can benefit from a mentor in their life.

Catharine Shay is a Global Operations Manager for 3M Business Transformation and a community role model and advocate for STEM education.

January is National Mentoring Month for more information on the month’s activities and mentoring opportunities visit, http://www.mentoring.org/.

Where are the Girls? STEM Career & Technical Education

January 12, 2017

Career and technical education is no longer the forgotten stepchild of education reform. The plight of jobless Americans took center stage in the turbulent Presidential election and raised the stakes for creating pathways to the middle class that don’t pass through the ivy-fringed gates of four-year colleges. In fact, jaded Congress watchers believe that CTE may be one of the few issues that will win bipartisan support in 2017.

That’s good news, but converts to the CTE cause will soon discover what CTE experts have known for a long time: namely, that the gender gaps in CTE’s STEM subjects are every bit as large as gender gaps in advanced math and science classes. In fact, those gaps are growing. To create broad opportunities for all their students, states must meet this problem head on.

To gauge the depth of the challenge, we reviewed federal data on high school students who concentrate in one of four critical STEM CTE fields: Health science, information technology, manufacturing, and science & technology.[1]

The lion’s share of female high schoolers concentrating in STEM CTE study health science, while male students are more evenly distributed:

Not surprisingly, high school girls dominate health science, but they are scarce in the other three career clusters.  The imbalance has gotten worse since 2007/08:

CTE Gender Imbalance is Growing

In science and engineering, girls held steady at a measly 25 percent. [1]

The news isn’t all bad for girls. They dominate in health sciences at a time when the healthcare sector is growing quickly and middle-skill jobs in health command a strong wage, at least for those who go on to earn a two-year technical degree.

Still, the gender imbalances should concern everyone. it’s more than a bit troubling that segregation by gender is getting worse. As fields like healthcare and computing continue to grow, we cannot draw most of our talent from only half of the population. In addition, a growing body of research tells us that organizations benefit from gender diversity in the workplace.

What’s to be done? As with most problems that really matter, the solutions are multifaceted, ranging from formally recruiting girls as early as middle schools to redesigning CTE curricula to avoid gender stereotypes and providing CTE teachers professional development on how to create a welcoming environment for all genders. 

(Check out this handy primer on professional development for a fuller list.)

Employers should continue making the case for gender balance while identifying employees who can serve as mentors: female employees in advanced manufacturing, for example, or male nurses. Governors can use their bully pulpit to advance campaigns that encourage gender diversity in middle-skill STEM jobs. Career and technical educators can work with their schools and districts to design targeted student recruitment strategies that break through the gender stereotypes.

Each state or community might find a different set of solutions, but none can afford to ignore the problem. State leaders must dedicate themselves to improving matters. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which is likely to be reauthorized this year, requires states to report on their progress in improving gender equity in CTE. It is not yet clear, however, whether states will suffer any federal consequences if they fail to reach their targets. There is little appetite for federal sanctions these days.

The solution is up to all of us. After all, everyone has a major stake in fostering a creative and robust middle skills workforce. We won’t get there if we allow boys and girls to go their separate ways.


[1] Health Science, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and “STEM” are career clusters in the National Career Clusters Framework. For the purposes of this analysis, we have renamed the STEM career cluster as “Science & engineering” to avoid confusion with our own definition of STEM, which includes the other three career clusters. The Science & engineering cluster includes “planning, managing and providing scientific research and professional and technical services (e.g., physical science, social science, engineering) including laboratory and testing services, and research and development services.”

[2] Data reveal that male and female enrollments more than doubled—growing by roughly 120 percent each. That said, girls did not improve their relative position.

Tags: Career Technical Education, women & girls, computer science, engineering

High School STEM Literacy: Necessary, Yet Insufficient

December 19, 2016

This past election season invoked talk of putting people back to work—particularly in the manufacturing sector.  To help frame the scope of the problem, a study from the Brookings Institute claims that factories eliminated 6.7 million people’s positions with some industries completely dying out from 1980 to 2014. At first glance, that looks bad for manufacturing. However, this same study found that American factories made twice as much in that same 30-year period with production today at an all-time high. So, if production is up but employment is down, where is the disparity?

“The popular notion is that the jobs were shipped to low-wage countries like Mexico or China. The reality is that in recent years, 88 percent of job loss in manufacturing is due to gains in productivity, such as increased use of robots,” asserts Dr. Anthony Carnevale in an op-ed for the Hechinger Report. The data Carnevale cites has serious educational implications; workers with a high school diploma or less took the brunt of the productivity-based employment losses.

That popular notion used to be closer to the truth. According to The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), historically manufacturing competitiveness relied heavily on low-cost labor sources. This gave the advantage to low-wage countries. However, new BCG studies of the last ten years in manufacturing report that many countries, including the U.S., offset higher wage costs with increases in productivity. And countries that did not focus on production lost some ground—shifting the manufacturing advantage in favor of these high output economies. This shift implicates a growing trend in manufacturing robots since technological advances in automation allow today’s factories to do much more with much less.

“Robots can complete many manufacturing tasks more efficiently, effectively, and consistently than human workers, leading to higher output with the same number of workers, better quality, and less waste,” states the report from BCG.

As the use of manufacturing robots becomes more commonplace, the types of manufacturing jobs available to employees will require more skill. The National Association of Manufacturers forecasts an additional 3 ½ million manufacturing jobs over the next 10 years. But 2 million of those positions will go unfilled unless we produce a workforce with the post-secondary skills needed.

The trends in manufacturing employment highlight the nationwide employment issues for those with just a high school diploma or less. Economically, the environment has changed for low-skill jobs and won’t likely change back—positioning post-secondary as more of a requirement and less of an option for anyone seeking to make a living wage. To those rallying for stronger K-12 education, and for STEM particularly, there is no better time than the present if they want to change this future!

Tags: jobs & workforce

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