By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Young Oklahomans need to be engaged in science, technology, engineering and math training.
With the new school year about to rev up, I’ve got STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education on my mind.
This isn’t some altruistic preoccupation on my part.
Although I care very much about Oklahoma’s young people getting an education that allows them to compete in a global economy that is increasingly technology-based, my focus is driven by new company starts and the jobs they create.
The data that I see every day tells me that we as a country and state are not on a path to meet the future demand for STEM skills.
Nationwide, STEM jobs — those that require degrees in these technical subjects — currently account for 10 percent of all U.S. jobs.
These positions are projected to grow two times faster than the average for all occupations over the next five years.
What’s true for the nation is true for Oklahoma.
We have an abundant pipeline of technology and invention from the labs and research facilities at OMRF, OU, OSU, TU and other institutions.
To bring those technologies to market, we need scientists, engineers and business people with the kind of problem-solving skills that they teach you in physics and calculus class.
And when people have those skills, they earn more. i2E’s portfolio companies have an average annual wage of $73,395 — nearly double the $38,250 state average.
Plus STEM jobs tend to be rewarding, challenging, and just plain fun. Many STEM occupations are in companies that are working with cutting-edge technology.
The work is fast-paced and dynamic; the people doing these jobs are always learning something new.
All this fits together into one big landscape that’s shouting loud and clear. The good jobs are in the innovation economy — and they require greater technical and problem-solving expertise.
Ironically, at the very time when our STEM needs are taking off, numerous studies report that student interest in these subjects is on the decline. Studies also show that the earlier students become interested in science and math, the better the chances are that they will stay engaged.
It’s going to take all of us to move the dial on STEM. There are some cool examples of what can be done.
In the LEGO League, kids build robots and compete. The Oklahoma Afterschool Network (OKAN), which works to ensure that children have access to safe and enriching opportunities, has more than 70 ideas for simple experiments.
Expert TA, an i2E portfolio company, provides an online physics homework and tutorial system and offers free access to one high school class in need for every new course purchased by a college or university.
Increasing STEM interest among Oklahoma’s students isn’t a project for the year 2020; it’s what we need to do now.
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 [email protected].