Together We Are Better: The intersection of corporate funding, educators and guidance counselors, and practiced professionals have impact on our future and the future of our children
The data is clear: McKinsey reported late in 2017 that the future of labor will “create demand for millions of jobs by 2030…[and] these trends include…[an] investment in technology, infrastructure, and buildings…” McKinsey estimates that almost 400 million global workers will need to learn new skills in response to the predicted rapid automation adoption.
Before this information was made available, it was clear STEM education is critical to everyone’s future, and the company I work for, Jacobs (who recently acquired CH2M, where I have been employed for nearly 15 years) is showing up in these spaces.
In reflecting upon my professional STEM experiences and how it has fueled a passion that I personally did not benefit from as a young person, my musings connect the dots and how well these recent experiences integrate. I have had the opportunity to represent my firm, that has shown great generosity and corporate responsibility as well as collaboration with other leaders in the STEM space, like The Dow Chemical Company and The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC).
Last year, I attended the U.S. News STEM Solutions conference, held in San Diego, California, where legacy CH2M sponsored the STEM Leadership Hall of Fame Luncheon.
The criteria to qualify for the Leadership Hall of Fame includes “leaders who have achieved measurable results in the science, technology, engineering and math fields; challenged established processes and conventional wisdom; inspired a shared vision; and motivated aspiring STEM professionals.”
No doubt, representing the firm I work for and experiencing the 2017 Hall of Fame was memorable, especially hearing the inductees’ experiences about what sparked their interest in STEM subjects and their journey to how they ultimately became influencers and trailblazers in their fields – sometimes faced with great adversity.
When interviewed on a panel by moderator Brian Kelly, Editor and Chief Content Officer, U.S. News & World Reportat the Hall of Fame luncheon, inductees spoke about perseverance and hard work, and how they were supported, encouraged and motivated early on – oftentimes by their teachers, who helped them to realize this commitment to their passion.
Ursula Burns, the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune500 company, Xerox Corporation, was appointed by former U.S. President Barack Obama to help lead the White House national program on STEM from 2009-2016. She told the audience, that was made up of educators primarily from the southern California region, about the time one of the nuns at the private Catholic school she attended told her that she had three options for a career: to be a nun, teacher or nurse. Dismayed by those options, Burns, the second of three children raised by a single mother in a low-income housing project in lower Manhattan, was motivated to seek out another path more suited to her aptitude and interest in math. She discovered that engineering may be a way for her to use her skills while earning a good living. She explained that a good school counselor could have gotten her there.
Also inducted was Dr. Ellen Ochoa, veteran NASA Astronaut and the first Hispanic woman to go to space (in 1991). Her bachelor’s in physics and master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering from San Diego State University (SDSU), led her to these accomplishments and eventually to her current role as the Director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Ochoa attended SDSU with the intention of studying music or business, and because she was always good at and enjoyed math, she decided to complete her calculus series there that she began in high school. It was then that she realized that she was the only one in her class who was there for fun. That prompted her to explore other majors, which led to a guidance counselor recommending that she attend a Women in Engineering conference that was being held on campus. She said that hearing the stories of women engineers was incredibly influential.
Andrew Liveris, former CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, also shared on the panel that his science and math teachers in his native Australia supported his passion and encouraged his growth that led him to pursuing degrees in chemical engineering. He referenced how the influence of his teachers sparked his passion in problem solving, especially in global climate change. His influence in STEM through the contributions and commitment of Dow to STEM education, through collaboration with Jacobs and the Smithsonian Science Education Center has enabled events like the SSEATs Science Program and an extension of that, the STEM Education Forum. He spoke about getting kids excited to put in the hard work required in subjects that are often perceived as difficult—like science and math—and to motivate them early.
Fast forward to nearly 18-months later, September 2018, in Lake Jackson, Texas, where I attended the two-day STEM Education Forum, a collaboration between Dow, Jacobs and The Smithsonian, which is part of a years’ worth of enrichment activities designed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC).
Teachers from the Lake Jackson area came together on a Friday and Saturday to deepen their learnings in STEM. We learned through this collaboration that when we bring together the expertise of the SSEC with the commitment of global citizenship and their employee advocates, we can be effective, and the ripple effect has endless potential.
The torrential and ongoing downpour during that two-day Forum in south Texas made the discussions and activities about applicable and accessible learnings feel incredibly relevant. Mariam Manual, instructional assistant professor from the University of Houston, with Kathrine Fancher, program specialist at Smithsonian Institution concentrated on helping teachers to help students think outside of the box through one of the activities designed for this event. The activity focused on water quality requiring the use of common household items (rice, cotton balls, etc.) to first filter contaminated water and then test for use, including drinkability. Hurricane Harvey, which greatly impacted the Houston area in 2017, shows both geographic and practical relevance because potable water was a concern.
The Forum served as a spring board for educators like Betsy Watson, from R. O’Hara Lanier Middle School, whose passion about bringing “more STEM educationinto the schools to give kids more opportunities to be inspired” aligned with the other educators in attendance. Colleen Knight, teacher/ science dept chair at Sweeny Independent School District, said that she was inspired by her 8thgrade teacher and in turn, wants to influence children in the same way that she was influenced.
Instead of science and math seeming too difficult, reflecting upon Mr. Liveris’s comments about his passion about inspiring kids at a young age, educators like Jennifer Nicholas from Grady Rasco Middle School, are leveraging experiences like SSEATs and the Forum because she loves science and her goal is to “teach kids that science is all around them.”
Patricia Hall, also from the area, said that one of the things that fuels her passion is “helping kids get excited [about science] and showing them the numerable professions that are available to them”. She said that many of her elementary students want to be teachers, like her, or follow in the lineage of the jobs or careers of those who are in their families, which could possibly limit the options of a child who has the interest and passion for STEM.
Involvement and funding from organizations like Jacobs and The Dow Chemical Company that collaborate with the Smithsonian are critical, giving children the opportunity, like Dr. Ochoa had in meeting women in engineering.
Together we are better. The intersection of corporate funding, educators and guidance counselors, and practiced professionals have impact on our future and the future of our children. It demonstrates how powerful the influence of teachers is in our children’s futures and how we, as a society, must continue to support the advancement of STEM education to continue to empower our teachers. Collaborations like this deepen and expand the reach and impact in our classrooms and help inspire the next generation of innovators to deliver the promise of a more connected, sustainable world.