STEM: The Next Great Equalizer?

I grew up in the age of Sputnik and the race for the moon. Like most of the youth of my generation, we were challenged in school to “beat the Russians” to space and were driven by President Kennedy’s promise to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. That speech was made on Sept 12, 1962.

As I reread that speech, I was struck by how much of it focused on the role technology played in history and President Kennedy’s vision of how it could impact our future. In that speech, given at Rice University, he said:

“To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.

The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.”

The speech became the rallying cry for my generation and it produced tens of thousands of students who took this challenge seriously. This gave us the engineers, scientists, mathematicians and educators who not only delivered on the promise of putting a man on the moon, but also helped create the core technology to enable computing, the internet, advanced communications and modern healthcare that we have today.

In essence, this challenge to conquer space and make technology a key part of our world in the 60s and 70s became one of the great equalizers. It created the next generation of workers who studied math, science, technology and engineering, which helped drive economic growth and set the stage for the technological breakthroughs of the latter part of the last century.

But educators tell me that, by the mid-1980s, without a similar strong push by either the US government or schools to emphasize math, science, engineering and technology, we lost almost two decades of youth who chose to go into other fields of learning. During that period, kids studying these tech disciplines decreased.

It was not until the tech boom of the late 1990s we started seeing an increase of students getting degrees in math, science, and engineering. They are the ones who are now driving our current technology revolution in social media, AR/VR, advanced computing and communications and all of the technology that impacts the fabric of our lives today.

In a recent piece in Tech.pinions, I wrote about seven areas of explosive growth in tech that will drive our world and economy in the next 10-15 years.

In the article, I stated that, for us to achieve this type of growth, we are going to need millions of new workers skilled in science, technology, math, and engineering. At the moment, we just don’t have enough of these skilled tech workers to drive this explosive growth and make the vision of a connected world a reality. In fact, when I talk to the big companies like Boeing, Intel, Qualcomm, etc., they all fear that, as they grow their businesses and tech demands increase, they will not have enough tech educated staff to meet their engineering needs.

The good news is there is a very strong movement going on focused on STEM education that, like the space race of the past, has the potential to become the great equalizer of this next generation of workers. Demand for people who are skilled in science, technology, engineering, and math will only increase and these workers will be at the heart of the next major breakthroughs in technology for the first half of this century. According to Adeco, there will be 2.4 million STEM-based job vacancies in 2018 alone.

This push in STEM is partially led by the Maker Movement which the White House and most state leaders are getting behind, along with an increased push for STEM in all grade levels helped by major contributions by Chevron, who has created STEM labs in over a dozen schools, and other big companies like Boeing, Intel, ATT, and others. Even the San Francisco 49ers have pushed STEM through STEM Leadership Institute Program.

A good primer in the Maker Movement and its importance comes from a new book by Dale Dougherty, known as the father of the Maker Faire, and Tim O’Reilly, titled, “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds”.

In it, Mr. Dougherty echoes some of the concerns I mention above and says, “‘Free to Make” asks us to imagine a world where making is an everyday occurrence in our schools, workplaces, and local communities, grounding us in the physical world and empowering us to solve the challenges we face.”

Across the nation, special STEM programs are emerging inside our school systems as well as through privately funded programs springing up in communities around America. Business and educational leaders and some major politicians in the US know technology will fuel our future and understand preparing the youth of today for the jobs of tomorrow is now emerging as a major priority.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

2 thoughts on “STEM: The Next Great Equalizer?”

  1. Very well put. If I may add…

    Like any tool, education and training (they are distinct and necessary), depend on how they are applied. This is true for the good, bad, or irrelevant outcomes.

    STEM fields still trail other fields of endeavor in attracting practitioners, but I think that’s a reflection on societal values. Many times science is like joining the priesthood… i.e. one thinks they chose the field, when “it’s the field that chose them”.

    Newton once said, “If I’ve seen further than most, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants”. He, of course, was referring to Kepler and Brahe, Copernicus, Ptolemy, etc. During the timeline of the 20th century there were a handful of truly world changing advancements in science and technology. At the peril (certainty) of severe omission I list the following:

    Manned flight, Special and General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Semiconductors, Computers, Atomic Fission and Fusion, The Moon landings (and allied tech), GPS, The Internet, etc.

    The above have not only won wars, but bettered everything about living. This is mostly because of the “Jobs to be done” society desired. Forgive my cynicism, I realize it’s not the whole picture, but what are todays best and brightest doing? Mainly accumulating wealth as a primary objective. How else are emojis so important?

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