There is increasing outcry over the need for improved science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. It's such an important issue that it's become a political hot button. Many are lobbying for more government funding of STEM programs as part of a broader strategy to bring US manufacturing and innovation back to its glory days.
Design competitions are one way vendors are doing their part. By sponsoring teams at the grade school, high school, and university levels, they hope to ignite that competitive spark that nurtures a lifelong love of technology and draws students into engineering professions.
Click on the image below to see highlights of the projects borne from some intense design competitions:
The Gerber-sponsored student team's robot in the FIRST Robotics Competition has a tank tread conveyor system that is designed to draw game pieces in the form of racket balls into the system and up into a basket. (Source: Gerber Technology)
Students start to develop keen interests in math, music, science, art, sports, and other areas in the 4th and 5th grade (ages between about 8 and 11). That's the time to introduce STEM information in class activities. If we wait until they get to high school, many of the elementary-school kids with an interest in STEM-type activities will have found something else to get involved with.
I'm no fan of FIRST. I have talked with teams where parents and "mentors" took over and the kids didn't get involved much in the project. Also, a few years ago several parents on different teams said most of the team spent all its time on raising funds rather than working on the final project. It costs a lot of money to enter a FIRST competition. I recommend our schools take a different path to STEM programs and activities.
Getting students hooked on the software is a clever long-term marketing strategy. I remember Apple flooding schools with Apple computers in the mid-1980s -- supported by Ted Kennedy. Millions of kids came out of public schools with a bias toward Apple.
@DavePalmer: I would have to agree with Dave in terms of some of the discipline choices being tied to cultural issues.
I think industry is desperately trying to shift that focus by putting a huge emphasis on promoting STEM careers to women these days. I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a curriculum briefing for new parents at our high school (my son is heading into 9th grade) and there is a whole new track on technology and science courses, one of which is specifically aimed at girls and in fact, is not open to any boys. Also, many of these student competitons are aimed squarely at women. I attended a CAD vendor's briefing last year and they had a professor at MIT come up and talk specifically about a rigorous summer program offered to girls in middle and high school as a means of promoting an orientation in STEM education.
Almost all engineering programs require learning CAD and simulation applications as part of the curriculum--in fact, most of the CAD/CAE/PLM vendors are heavy donators of their software licenses to schools and sponsors of these types of competitions. This is all in the hopes that these students who are trained on their systems will graduate and fast become engineers (with buying muscle) who are trained on their software, therefore prefer their offerings to competitors. It's a market development strategy, to be sure.
I have almost 20 years of electrical engineering experience which includes design, project and technical lead so when I recently had the opportunity to teach an engineering course at a university I was so excited. I did notice a lack in teaching students real world stuffs such as simple ESD or reading and understanding datasheets. So I try to design my class assignments and projects to mimic real world situations.
I agree, Warren, that getting the government out of the way would certainly be the best solution and letting private industry take the lead is the better option. There are a number of companies in the area where I live (including the one I work at) that sponsor various teams and competitions. Not only are they helping train the next generation, they are building good-will in the community.
Are you talking about giving money to the same people that graduate students that can't read, write, or count? I don't see this public school black hole funding trough helping anybody. I think it is up to families and industry, not the government. Every time they try to "help" it hurts the kids and the process.
No. The solution doesn't lie in the government in any way. Get the government out of the way so business can grow. Once the demand is there and the wages good, the kids will follow the money. Always have. Always will. Remember it was the government who shipped our jobs overseas to begin with after hundreds of years keeping it at home.
I agree, bobjengr. Good professors, especially those with a wealth of professional experience, can make potentially mundane classes into inspiring ones. It's really too bad that many university engineering programs have so few of those teachers.
@ChasChas: I think it's very unlikely that women are deterred from becoming engineers because of an aversion to logical thinking; after all, about half of math majors are women. (I also don't think it's the case that chemical engineering requires any less logical thinking than mechanical engineering). I think the issues have more to do with the culture in the various engineering professions. The mechanical engineering culture in particular remains a very male-dominated culture.
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