Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why America Needs More STEAM Power

I must admit it has been exciting to see manufacturing making headlines so much of late. The topic of manufacturing appears to be a current darling of the political talking heads. Much has been discussed about the role of manufacturing in the U.S. economy and how manufacturing will be the engine to power us out of this sluggish economy.

When you look at the data it is evident that manufacturing has all the right stats to power growth in our economy. The higher wages paid versus service sector jobs ($17k per year) and the number of companies supported in the supply chain for every manufacturer (multiplier effect of a $1.50 per $1 spent) just to name just a few.

On the flip side of all this positive talk about how manufacturing will drive our economic recovery is another reality — the vast skills gap facing all manufacturers in America.

For manufacturing to exist in this country it has to be highly automated and on the cutting-edge of technology. These changes are driving the need for a manufacturing worker that is different from decades past. While much is written about the need for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) based education, school districts and states are not hearing the message.

In February of this year, The State Board of Education decided California eighth-graders will no longer be required to take Algebra 1... This is taking our children’s education in the wrong direction! We're losing focus on STEM, but is it the silver bullet we hope it is? Many people are coming forward now saying that advanced manufacturing needs more than just STEM focused lessons. What's missing? Art.

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, ARTS, and mathematics) may seem to be an unlikely pairing but it is not as strange as you may think.

Innovation requires a creative mind and what better training ground than the arts to open up the realms of creativity? For example, 3D and additive technologies require the ability to create in multiple dimensions. But I caution how we build a STEAM based curriculum — it troubles me to see so many graduates earning degrees without practical application skills needed to make them employable.

America at one time had one of the best educational systems in the world. Even with the decline of the system, we're still leaders in innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. We must find a way to bring STEAM based curriculum to our K-12 system, and it is critical that we make these programs engaging and hands-on. FIRST robotics is a great example. Together, we need to push our kids to think creatively and scientifically at an early age.

Then, we have to continue supplying the most current STEAM based knowledge to our universities and community college systems. We need to show the world how this can be done, and that it can be done. For if we can excel at solving this challenge, America will be able to STEAMroll the rest of the world.

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