By Scott Meacham
Copyright (©) 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
U.S. News and Raytheon have produced a new and first comprehensive STEM index, measuring science, technology, engineering and mathematics activity in the U.S. relative to the year 2000.
The inaugural report confirms that “student aptitude and interest” in STEM has remained mostly flat for more than a decade, even as the need for STEM skills continues to accelerate.
Especially on point is the statement by the editor of U.S. News and World Report that “STEM skills may be required in as many of 50 percent of future jobs.”
That’s why STEM interest and education should be a hot button issue for anyone who cares about young people, innovation, or jobs in Oklahoma. It’s all connected.
We have to figure out ways to engage more students at every age, in every grade, and at every level of ability in STEM.
This doesn’t mean our daughters and sons are all going to become ultra-proficient in calculus or gain advanced degrees in physics or biology. But they do need to expand their technical and scientific literacy while learning to use problem-solving skills and data to answer questions.
Science fairs are one proven way we can spark junior high and high school interest. Students engage and learn better when they can apply classroom knowledge to real world problems.
We have a great grass-roots science fair network in Oklahoma that encompasses seven regional and one state fair. The Oklahoma network is affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest (1,700 students from 75 countries) international pre-college science competition.
At the 2015 international event, 12 Oklahoma ninth- to 12th-graders demonstrated their 11 research projects. Two students won awards — as Oklahoma students do every year.
But the value of Oklahoma’s science fair network isn’t in awards and recognition — it’s in promoting scientific literacy.
“That’s the wonderful thing about the science and engineering fair system. The kids get to develop their own talent and interest,” Dr. Rahmona Thompson, professor in the Department of Biology at East Central University, told me. She’s the director of both the Oklahoma State Fair and the East Central Oklahoma regional fair.
“Oklahoma has a very equitable system across the whole state,” Thompson said. “We have been going since the fifties, but the number of schools has declined; we lost schools because they couldn’t afford to send kids in buses to fairs.
Funding for the Oklahoma science fair network comes from the Oklahoma State Department of Education as well as from school budgets. Teachers, parents, and mentors from industry and the military pitch in and volunteer.
In seemingly unending funding cuts being handed down by state government, Oklahoma’s science fairs should not be one of them.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Did You Know? STEM employment in the U.S. has gone up by more than 30 percent since 2000. SOURCE: U.S. News