Written by IEEE | October 20, 2021
STEM professionals aren’t just educated, they’re inspired. Around the world, IEEE members volunteer their time and expertise to encourage young people to seek education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
As the 2021 IEEE President, Kathy Land has led a push to make it easier for volunteers to connect with resources, events and each other. The goal: to foster curiosity in the next generation of STEM professionals and highlight the enormous benefits of STEM career paths.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing young faces transformed when they learn about science and technology,” Land said.
On November 1, Land will kick off a five-day IEEE STEM summit for current and prospective volunteers who are passionate about inspiring the next generation of technical professionals.
Ahead of that event, Land discussed resources for STEM educators compiled by IEEE volunteers, and the benefits of a diverse STEM workforce.
IEEE TryEngineering recently launched a volunteer STEM portal. What’s the idea behind that, and how did it come about?
This portal was a response to what we were hearing from volunteers, teachers, parents and students. Although IEEE had many existing STEM resources, these were not consolidated and were often hard to find. These resources were not consolidated in a single organized location – we needed to also provide some additional support to what we were doing in this area and increase the priority for these activities within IEEE. A team of concerned volunteers and staff started this a couple of years ago and the end result is the portal that you see today. It is really amazing to see the resources that are available along with the support for STEM that has come from across IEEE from having a single focal point for these activities within the IEEE infrastructure.
Pre-university students might not enter the workforce for 10, or 15 or 20 years, depending on their age and how much graduate education they pursue. If you could guess what types of technologies today’s pre-university high school students might work on, what would they be?
Although it is hard to predict where technology will be in 5 years, much less 15 or 20 years, I think it is safe to say that sticking with the current trends reflect increases in the uses of artificial intelligence, the use of data to drive decision making, interconnectivity and the importance of cybersecurity. When I talk to young people I tell them to pursue their passions. You never know where the next big technological breakthrough may come from and although it is safe to tell young people what the ‘hot’ areas of technology might be, what is important is to convey to them is that working in technology is an amazing field that is wide open. That it is a career that will promise to continually challenge them, to never be boring and most importantly will reward them for a lifetime if they pursue what they love to do. Additionally, I tell them that no matter their background, gender and race, working in technology can ‘equalize’ discriminators unlike any other field. This is because the only thing that really matters, due to the challenging and fast-paced nature of the environment, is who has the right answer.
We hear so many technologists talk about the need for more diversity in STEM fields. How does implementing STEM education at an early age help in encouraging more students to choose STEM fields as their line of study?
There have been a number of studies that show a correlation between STEM education and success in secondary education. But let’s not rely on published studies, let’s just use common sense for a moment. If I am a student and have not been exposed to the required courses, or have not been exposed to science and math and am unfamiliar with technology in general – what are the odds that I am going to sign up for any type of secondary education program that is science intensive? We must do a better job of preparing kids, of making them comfortable with STEM, the earlier the better. Kids are naturally inquisitive, at all ages. We should work to find age appropriate STEM content and to supply this content for those who need it. That is what we are doing with the IEEE STEM Portal. We are providing a place on TryEngineering.org where teachers, parents and volunteers can find all types of resources to support STEM education so that K-12 students might be as prepared as possible to select from the widest educational options possible.
How does the inclusion of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences help encourage innovation?
According to an experiment run by the Harvard Business Review, teams with a high deviation from the “standard” perspective (in other words, teams with cognitive diversity) are more likely to solve a problem than non-diverse teams. Additionally, a Deloitte report found that cognitively and demographically diverse teams can enhance innovation by 20%.
But more importantly, we must think about the impact that non-diverse technical teams might have on innovation. Technologies, and their usage, can impact and even transform the culture and economics of existing systems and institutions. We must remember that technology is not neutral, and its use changes lives and that technology can have profound impacts on our privacy, security and even our civil rights as users. A lack of diverse ideas and representation could lead to further disparities between gender, race and class. Good technology requires diversity of thought.
Are you conducting IEEE STEM outreach events for pre-university students or educators in your local community? Then, we want to hear from you! The IEEE STEM Ambassador Program was developed to recognize IEEE volunteers, like you, for their contributions to pre-university STEM education. All active IEEE Members are invited to submit an application to be considered as an IEEE STEM Ambassador.
Looking for even more information on how to get involved? Join IEEE Pre-University Collabratec Community and TryEngineering Facebook Group. It’s a great way to connect, encourage, share successes and support each other as we inspire the next generation of technical professionals.