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The Village Behind STEM Skill Development

Federal, state and private sector initiatives are key to developing integrated and sustainable STEM programs.

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The modern age of information overload makes even the simplest decisions fraught with controversy.

As a parent of young children, I can attest that this applies to many areas of child-rearing but one that carries its own, more modern set of parameters is toy selection. Birthday gift-buying now comes with its own analysis:

  • Does this toy include toxic or non reusable materials?

  • Does it reinforce antiquated gender roles?

  • Will it offer a learning experience?

Personally, I believe this kind of reflection is good, albeit challenging, and it’s this last point that’s the most forgiving. That said, there are benchmarks for what we’d consider the best educational toys and more and more those relate to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Why have STEM-oriented activities begun to be perceived as the gold standard of educational play? There are a few reasons. According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF), an organization designed to recognize inventors, promote creativity, and advance the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, STEM’s focus on hands-on learning with real-world applications helps develop a variety of skill sets. These include everything from media and technology literacy, productivity, social skills, communication, flexibility and initiative, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, decision making, leadership, entrepreneurship, acceptance of failure and more. And besides catering to a child’s varied interests, NIHF says STEM learning prepares them to be successful in a variety of future careers.

And since this is such a critical strategy for equipping future leaders with key skills, industry leaders continue to push to add structure to its development.

Recently, the White House announced a series of policies aimed at attracting and retaining international talent in STEM fields.

NAM, the National Association of Manufacturers voiced its support for the initiative. In a January statement, NAM president Jay Timmons said in a statement that “In far too many cases, we’ve seen brilliant minds educated at American universities leave because our outdated immigration system doesn’t let them put their talents to work for America’s future,” adding that the NAM has long called for immigration policies that are responsive to clear economic needs and that “these policies meet that test, meaning that they will benefit our workers, our communities and our industry, empowering us to create even more opportunities for the American people.”

And for more home-grown efforts, it takes a village and it seems local and private entities are up to the challenge. For example, in recent weeks alone:

  • Michigan Governor Gretch Witmer awarded $2.7 million in grants to help expand STEM programs in K-12 schools.

  • The state of Indiana recently awarded STEM acceleration grants to 48 school districts and charter schools for a total of $2.6 million in investments.

  • The Society for Science has named 95 exceptional teachers in underserved communities as recipients of research grants to advance STEM learning in middle and high school classrooms.

So how can manufacturers play a role in advancing these skills within their communities? Take a page from the playbook of Duke Energy, whose latest investment in STEM comprised $150,000 in donations spread across 12 education programs in the greater Cincinnati area. Duke hopes the STEM grants can equip students with the skills needed for successful careers in the energy sector, though one recipient highlighted a specific added benefit: Madhura Kulkarni, director, Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics at Northern Kentucky University identified that added challenges to hands-on learning that came with the pandemic and hopes these types of grants will help make up for lost opportunities.

As for me, and parents like me, we can continue to encourage STEM through play, though Tinker Toys and Magna Tiles will only get us so far. Luckily, the emphasis on STEM learning has taken flight and these types of independent efforts can help coalesce a greater societal shift into skill development that lasts a lifetime. What can your business do to help?

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