Notes on Getting Kids into STEM

High-paying STEM jobs can be the way out of poverty for students. In the past, students who lived in poverty may have taken jobs in manufacturing or other trades. Many of those jobs are disappearing, leaving workers back in poverty. STEM jobs, on the other hand, are everywhere, and the tech industry shows no signs of slowing down. Even as certain STEM trends come and go, we can expect to see the overall number of jobs in STEM fields increase.

So access is one thing, but inspiration is another. STEM, for all of it’s benefits, isn’t on every parent’s radar. One thing I give Elon Musk credit for – he’s made STEM cool again for all the people who wouldn’t care about STEM otherwise. Doesn’t mean he’s a good person and I have my own issues with the guy, but consider all the attention on STEM that’s happened since SpaceX started. It shows people DO think STEM is important, but it needed some rebranding. Musk and his efforts have gotten many members of the non-STEM-aligned portion of the population to pay attention.

Still, can’t leave STEM in Elon Musk’s, or any other rocket-owning billionaire’s, hands. Musk doesn’t care about STEM kids. Let’s face it, he’s a billionaire and his priority toward STEM kids is “how can I use you to make me rich?” We can and we should do better. How can we – the people who can’t afford to sponsor kids like Taylor Wilson and Jackson Oswalt – do better? How do we help kids get into STEM? It’s like Bon Jovi said, ‘you do what you can.’

How To Get Kids into STEM

Most articles about ‘getting kids into STEM’ recognize the value of 1:1 interaction and encouragement. Spending time. Modeling behavior. I don’t have kids of my own, but I still want to help. So as an author, I made a decision – I could write about anything but I want to do my part. I take inspiration from authors like Micheal Anderson. Like Anderson, I write stories the kids who were like me; smart, poor, no opportunities, and stuck in the mental poverty cycle. It’s not enough to write a STEM story and go “This is about STEM, you should love it!” You actually have to write STEM stories that kids think are cool. How do you do that?

The point is, that if you want to get kids into STEM, you have to make it work for kids. Not just silly science experiments – actual projects. Make cool stuff, blow something up, build something crazy!

Champion Your STEM Kids

Beneath those details, it’s important to recognize a truth: The most important thing you to do to get kids into STEM is to help them understand what STEM helps them become. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are powerful tools. Kids who come from no where, with no connections or help, can use them to change the world (Srinivasa Ramanujan, for example).

Think about it: One of the downsides of modern superhero movies is how the hero only emerges AFTER they get their powers. Peter Parker and the spider bite. TMNT before the secret ooze. Tony Stark and the Iron Man suit (honestly, could he have built it without Jarvis?). Hiroki from Big Hero 6 and Baymax. Over and over again – modern STEM-related movies say ‘you’re only a hero once some arbitrary event happens to you.’ That’s unfair to STEM kids. When you put them together, STEM kids change the world, but ONLY IF THEY KNOW THEY CAN AND THEY SHOULD.

Another limiting factor for STEM kids is how little nurturing they get, compared to kids in sports. America invested billions of dollars and generations of kids into playing sports. What have we gotten for our money? What if we fostered kids into STEM the way we do for kids sports? What kind of game changer would that be both for the country and humanity at large?

All of these points are why I told a story where those meek, mild STEM kids turn into geek warriors. Recruited into a technical academy the way you recruit kids to play football or basketball, they band together to take down their supersmart supervillain principal. The real message is ‘you don’t need special powers – you’re already powerful, the hero is inside of you.’ Take away the evil genius, Miramar Technical Academy is a powerful model toward building the next generation of titan technology.

And along the way, STEM forces you to develop a strong work ethic. You burn calories with your brain instead of your body in a STEM career. Blue-collar trades are hard work, and so is this – both career paths are important! Whatever a child decides they’re interested in, our job is to say ‘yes you can, and I believe in you!’

Do It For Them – Do It For Us – Do It For You

We’ve got many elder geeks who invested time in showing us how to do this, it falls to us to continue that legacy regardless of our circumstances. Now more than ever, we need to be the people we needed when we were younger.

We can help on a daily basis by keeping those kids in mind. Hear about a free computer? Tell them. Hear about a free STEM camp? Tell them. Internships? Opportunities? Resources? Tell them. Offer to help. “Do you know how to apply for a job? Let me show you.” “Do you know how to write a resume? Let me show you.” You can be that flashlight showing the way to a better future for that child and their entire family.

When it comes to STEM, some of those kids are going to get there regardless. Others are going to be barred at the gate through no fault of their own. We can open those gates in our own ways, enabling and encouraging them to use their innate talent to make the world a better place. It’s the modern version of ‘a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.’

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