When 200 students arrived in Harrisburg, Pa., hoping to bring home a trophy in the statewide STEM Design Challenge finals in May, the real winners were actually the employers looking to fill future jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
As job growth in STEM fields continues to outpace other industries in the United States, demand for these qualified professionals surpasses the number of STEM employees entering the workforce. Meanwhile, American 15-year-olds rank 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science, according to data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). That’s why public and private stakeholders must take a leadership role in developing the next generation of STEM employees for tomorrow’s workforce. The STEM Design Challenge is just one example of a project that is making an impact.
In 2010, Thermo Fisher’s Jill Jones teamed up with Amy Davis of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Intermediate Unit to launch the STEM Design Challenge in Pittsburgh, motivated by the need to educate young people in fields with growing career opportunities and a strong outlook for the next several decades. The STEM Design Challenge, which became a statewide competition in 2014 and has now fostered the imaginations of more than 15,000 Pennsylvania students, includes regional competitions and a final program at the end of the school year. At this year’s statewide finals, students in grades 4-8 applied their skills and ingenuity toward constructing models of environmentally-friendly amusement park rides out of K’NEX® rods, connectors and motors. Prizes were awarded to the first, second and third place teams in each of two age categories.
“The STEM Design Challenge has grown tremendously in recent years, and that has been wonderful to see,” said Davis. “There is an ongoing concern from companies in the STEM industry in our region that there aren’t going to be enough people to fill available jobs, so partnerships like ours with Thermo Fisher are crucial to generate student excitement in STEM.”
The need to expose students to STEM-related activities begins at the elementary school level. In this age group, engaging experiences in the classroom or in a creative environment can leave powerful impressions. Thermo Fisher reached more than 83,500 students, 1,400 teachers and 670 schools in 2016, providing fun, hands-on opportunities for young students to experience working as scientists or engineers and receive feedback and encouragement from professionals in STEM fields. Presenting STEM in this context encourages positive thinking and self-confidence among students while introducing them to the excitement and challenge of self-driven research and experimentation.
In addition to the STEM Design Challenge, Thermo Fisher reaches students through two other STEM education programs: the STEM-credible Kit program, which provides lab safety supplies to students for classroom experiments, and Innovation Nation, which brings a peek into the world of biotechnology to events in the U.S., Brazil, India, Korea, Canada and the UK. The STEM Design Challenge is currently in eight locations across the U.S.
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