I am all for government support for STEM programs and do believe an educated and ample talent pool of future engineers is critical for the US' future. I beg to differ, though, with the comment about the government funding STEM at the exclusion of other programs like literature or history. I'm not sure I buy the fact that unless you go into teaching, you can't add value or create jobs pursuing those degrees. And while you hope that STEM initiatives that produce a flood of highly trained US engineers would translate into new companies and new jobs in the US, there are no guarantees that the up and coming generation won't fall into the same old outsourcing routines categorized manufacturing these last two decades.
Beth, when I said de-support other fields I was talking about government support.Quite frankly, someone who is not going into teaching but goes into English or Philosophy is probably not going to help drive the economy.Thus, I would not want to see the government support them.That does not mean that educational institutions or others won't.These individuals will typically be going into other fields anyway.I was talking to some people we know locally and their daughter was there visiting from college.She was studying Conflict Resolution. Her interest is foreign service.Does that qualify as something we as a people should support with tax dollars.For teaching of non-technical school classes we have state teaching colleges all over this country.This is appropriate.People will go into those other fields on their own.Their ability to get jobs, in any country, in those fields outside of teaching are limited.I do value these other fields, don't get me wrong.When I was a senior in high school I was taking pre-engineering and physics and calculus as a senior.I also tutored 10th grade English students.The teacher I worked for had a PhD in American Literature.She was great.I really valued the experience.When I went to Villanova we were required to take a full liberal arts curriculum in addition to our majors throughout the school.I really enjoyed that.
I would like to add that in our school district here in Illinois we have wonderful teachers.We also have a strong STEM program.As a member of the IEEE and the Chair of a society locally I am very aware of, and getting involved in, our programs to support STEM education.This is perhaps not typical, but it is a grass roots program with lots of parent participation.We are told constantly that China and India have all these educated engineers and that is one of the reasons they are able to compete.As long as we are supporting education through the government, that support should be targeted to the needs of the society.
See there, you got me going on this. I could say more.
I too am for the government support of STEM programs. I also agree with the concept of no gaurantees. I think the key lies in efficiencies. Right now it is believed that outsourcing is the way to go because it is cheaper. However, anyone that spends any amount of times working with vendors, suppliers, whatever overseas quickly discover the total cost is actually increased by going over seas. It will take some time but I think the accountants will figure out that the key lies in efficiencies, not in short term cost savings.
It may be that funding at the College and University levels could produce more significant immediate impact and results. The competition for the brightest and best, especially when tops students are looking to medicine and other health care fields, would be a good place to start. But we also need to address the movement of tech jobs out of the U.S. since that is probably even a bigger issue for top students deciding on their future direction.
@Alex this is an easy one. You want more people in STEM? Make Geek Chic. Replace "American Idol" with "American Inventor". After "Desperate Housewives" finishes its run, fill the time slot with "Myth Busters". Fund Robotics Competitions in Middle and High Schools (Sea Perch, FIRST Robotics). Make more shows like "Big Bang Theory" and "Chuck".
Hollywood both reflects and forms culture. Make STEM folks "rock stars" instead of Nerds and problem is solved instantly.
WW, I completely agree with the thought, but disagree that it would work. Take your example of Mythbusters.
The early episodes of the show had a lot more of the science, a lot more smaller experiments. Recent episodes are more like traditional reality shows, with a lot of talking personalities instead of the action of building.
Mythbusters follows your statement "Hollywood reflects culture". "Staged Reality" is popular, so Mythbusters contorted itself to be more popular.
I know it's off topic, but I agree entirely with what you said about "MythBusters". Here I am waiting for the new season and then after an hour I'm trying to figure out where the show went wrong. They used to make you think, and remember a few physics lessons and now it's just nonsense.
William, we've talked about this before (you've recommended it before), and I agree with you that the idea of "Geek Chic" would be a big way of improving the inflow of talented students into STEM and subsequently into engineering. Unfortunately, all attempts to make engineering cool seem to have failed and seem destined to fail. Consider that the statement "engineering is cool" is itself uncool. So there's an almost tautological impediment. What IS helping the most, practically speaking, is the glut of lawyers. Maybe some of those smart kids who realize law school is not longer a ticket to the good life will opt for engineering instead.
@Alex, I'm going to narrow it down even further. The impediment between Engineering and Cool lies somewhere between Middle School and High School. I had the great pleasure of judging at the recent 2012 Sea Perch Competition here in Philadelphia. I judged the High School poster presentations in the morning and the Middle School posters in the afternoon. Each team brought their developed underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to the Drexel University swimming pool for an underwater obstacle course and simulated rescue mission. The teams were then asked to pose as a Navy contractor and "sell" their ROV system to Navy representatives (the judges).
The High School students did an admirable job but the Middle School kids blew me away. Teams of 6 - 12 students, team T-shirts, rally-paint, one school even had a school-wide pep-rally for the team the day before and then brought along their cheer squad and mascot along to the competition. The students were engaged, excited, professional, and supportive of each-others knowledge of physics and engineering.
Somewhere between the ages of 11 - 14, that excitement is crushed and only the true scientists and engineers that have the wherewithal to withstand cultural labels and hurtful stereotypes continue on. So perhaps the comments along the lines of scientists and engineers are "born that way" and that it is not a lifestyle choice are correct. I just find it ironic that a culture that relies so heavily on science and technology has such a cultural bias against those in the field...
@williamlweaver: There are definitely aspects of our culture which undermine academic achievement; for example, it's considered perfectly normal and socially acceptable to say, "I'm no good at math."
My Chinese friends tell me that no one would dream of saying this in China; not because Chinese people are naturally better at math, but because it would be deeply embarassing. It would be like admitting that you can't read or write. And, in fact, since it's simply not considered socially acceptable to be bad at math, most people in China are proficient in basic math.
Attitudes towards teachers in the U.S. also seem to be less respectful than in many other countries, and attitudes towards education seem to be more lax. My daughters grew up in El Salvador and moved to the U.S. as teenagers. In the first year, they were in a bilingual education program. After the first year, my older daughter graduated and went on to community college, and my younger daughter moved into the regular program at the high school.
During my younger daughter's first week of regular classes, I noticed that she always seemed to be on the couch watching TV when I got home. The previous year, when she was in bilingual classes, I would usually find her doing homework.
"What's going on?" I asked. "How come you're not doing your homework?"
"I don't have any," she said.
"What do you mean?" I said. "Aren't they giving you any homework?"
"Yeah, but hardly any, and I do it all in class," she said. "The regular teachers don't give as much homework, because they know the kids won't do it."
I was skeptical, but my older daughter backed her up. She said that the regular students (who, for the most part, were either born or grew up in the U.S.) were much worse-behaved than the bilingual students. Unlike the bilingual students -- most of whom grew up in Mexico or Central America, and had been taught to respect teachers and value education, even if their own parents were not well-educated -- the regular students were rebellious and disrespectful. As a result, the regular teachers had to spend more of their time trying to control the classroom, instead of teaching.
Granted, this is in a below-average school district (we are planning to move to a better one), but I suspect the underlying cultural attitudes are not too different, even in the best school districts.
I have to agree here - there is very little rigor in high school and I believe it is hurting the students. I am constantly amazed that my teenage boys do not have homework and I am afraid they will be ill-prepared for college. The growth of charter schools is compounding the problem. My son was in a charter school for seventh grade that did not have any textbooks for the science class - the teacher was just scrounging for material. I took him out and wound up homeschooling him the rest of the semester. We do have some good STEM options at the high school level which is encouraging. I think options are important in high school so that kids have an opportunity to explore what they are interested in, to see if that is something they want to pursue after graduation.
I love Mythbusters, and I volunteer with a group of youngsters that build robots for challenges. I think as nice as it might seem to have Hollywood help I think it is up to the likes of you and me that must help STEM become cool. We can all help geeks and nerds become cool.
Did I actually see you advocate giving kids a "certification" without the associated acheivement? Let's remember what acheiving a certain grade should mean. It shouldn't mean you've sat at school for that number of years. It should mean that you've acquired a certain level of skill and knowledge. To pass a kid who hasn't acheived that isn't doing the kid any favors, it is just lowering the value of the diploma.
No child left behind got a lot of things wrong, and as such has assisted in messing up our education. Among the problems, it measures the acquisition of facts, but not the ability to reason clearly or think creatively. Data is easy to come by, what kids need to learn today is not a lot of facts, rather they need to learn how to distinguish good information from bad and how to use the information effectively.
No Child Left Behind was a good idea, but for a number of reasons, it died when applied. For one thing, those who applied it did not get teacher buy-in. With teachers hating it, it really didn't stand a chance. And once applied, teachers simply taught to the test in order to save their schools. At lot of good that did.
I don't know exactly how "STEM" works, but there seems to be an assumption that you can just take anyone and turn them into an engineer by putting them through the right program. I don't think it works that way. Definitely encouraging students who exhibit the right raw material is a good idea, but shoving everyone through a funnel and hoping they all come out the same is a bad idea.
I believe there are many students who will never do well in math and science, just as there are many students who will never do well in the arts, or history, or whatever.
I think that teachers who recognize each student's strengths at an early age, and encourage them toward their strong areas is crucial to the process of getting the right students on the right career path.
The comments on how the government should spend more on science and less on sociology serve to illustrate why the government should probably get out of it. If you are a sociologist you see it one way, if you are an engineer you see it another. There is really no logical way to manage this.
I think that many college bound students actually pay a lot of attention to demand and wage forecasts. The reason so many people are going into the medical field is the perception of demand, stability, and a resonable wage. I have observed this process in many youg adults. They seem to look for a field that will offer money, security, and a level of effort that they can tolerate. (I don't really agree with this approach to career selection, but I see it play out over and over.)
If industry needs more engineers, they better paint a picture of long term stability, demand, and reasonable wages. The current generation of students is much less likely to work hard for something that doesn't pay them generously for their efforts.
I agree that changing the image of engineers would be a positive thing.
Agreed, having simply a bunch of students who have been exposed to STEM won't make more engineers. You almost are born one. My wife is a Mental Health Counselor and views my colleagues and I as "different" in how we think and make decisions. Not that our methods are bad, just different.
For those who would be good canadiates, ecconomics makes a big difference. If you are not sure about your job security in engineering, other professions look better. My daughter had plenty of STEM exposure and capability but she decided on an IT project management path. Why? She saw how I worked and worried about having a job next week (or didn't get a raise for years) and that wasn't for her. Engineers like logical decisions and most management seem to decide something arbratary from week to week. There is no support from business for Engineers, they are a cost drain for a company, not a resource to be valued.
I grew up during the space race and got excited with engineering partially because society valued those guys who had the "right stuff" and everybody involved. Now society values Reality TV and how extreme things can be. Engineering reflects society's direction since our projects only get funded if there is a demand.
It isn't just a matter of forcing people into the engineering mold. There will always be people that lack the interest for that, and that is good. We need artists and performers to help make our lives pleasant. But even they can benefit from the right STEM education. I think there are three different benefits to STEM education. First, math and science (especially math) promotes disciplined thinking and sound reasoning. Those are skills that anyone can learn and everyone benefits from. When I say they can learn them, I don't mean that they will be easy for them. People who work by free association and "gut feel" will find it a terrible drag, but that is far from saying they can't do it, it is just a matter of buckling down and proceeding step by step. They benefit by becoming less vulnerable to arguments based on feelings instead of facts, or arguments with logical errors. That is good for anybody. It doesn't mean that they have to give up their favorite mode of thinking, just that for the important stuff they have to take a little time off to sort things through. Being able to do that is a big plus for anyone.
Second, having at least a good overview of how the world really works is a huge benefit to anyone in leadership as well as technical positions. If congress had a clearer picture of science, they wouldn't waste their time on so many hair-brained schemes or delay action on important environmental issues. If more of the people in Hollywood had a good idea of what science was really like they might not try to sell us on dreams that will actually hurt us.
Finally, some people will take to this stuff like a fish takes to water. If there is good support for them, they will be the engineers and inventors that will make the latter half of this century better than the beginning.
The "Three Rs" may have been enough 60 years ago. It isn't any more. We are getting into an increasingly technical society. I have to deal with more and more people who can't use a computer. They read and write fine. Basic math is not the obstacle. They can surf the Internet like champs. But, they have no clue as to what a computer can do operationally speaking, and it is keeping them from effectively doing their jobs. If they are struggling just to use the tools, they will never be able to compete with those who can. A business that doesn't implement an MRP system because they don't see the value will find themselves at the mercy of a company who has 30% fewer employees because they can use the computer effectively.
Competition is a ruthless race. Companies that can't make the best use of their resources will quickly find themselves falling behind. That means increasing automation, whether we like it or not. That, in turn, means that people have to be able to make good use of that automation, or they will be out of a job with nowhere to go. We have to be teaching kids how to create intellectual property and how to understand it and use it. The simple truth is routine jobs are going away. If you aren't an artist, an engineer, a technician, a sales person, or a CEO, your job is at risk (even lawyers are getting more desperate). All of those jobs, except certain kinds of artist, require technical understanding. Even sales people need to understand what they are selling, or they will never be able to sell to a knowledgeable buyer.
Functional illiteracy is a problem, but fixing it will not be enough. We may not need everyone to be an engineer, but we do need widespread scientific and technical literacy as well as functional literacy.
"Routine jobs" going away isn't a good thing, I don't think there is any question of that. It will be terribly hard to create the millions of specialized jobs needed to replace the jobs displaced by automation. But it is also economically inevitable. Unless we can come up with a successful economic model that is non-competetive, they will go. That being the case, we must prepare our children for a world without them, and we must prepare a good world without them for our children.
This subject makes me think of H1-B visas, and of foreign students at crowded US universities.
I asked both senators and my congressman about their position on H1-B recently. I have yet to receive a response from any of them. They're supposed to "REPRESENT" me as one of their constituents, but how can I be sure that they are in fact doing that when they ignore simple requests?
Do we need more engineers and scientists in the first place? A few years ago, we had a flood of engineers out of jobs. The situation has gotten better recently, but we'll always experience an ebb and flow of needs for technical people. Today, companies beg for experienced machinists, tool-and-die makers, and industrial electricians. In a few years, who knows what skills and education companies will need. Getting the government to fund STEM programs--as well as English-lit and art programs, among others--simply distorts supply and demand. From what I see, we have plenty of students who get science and engineering degrees. I'd like to see statistics and studies that document "shortages" of people in engineering and science. I bet we would find a need for mining and petroleum engineers, and perhaps geologists right now. After we drill a lot of gas and oil wells, we'll need chemical engineers. Or perhaps not. Who knows?
That said, it can't hurt to kindle technical interests with science fairs, robotics competitions, electronic-educational kits, and after-school activities. But we individuals stand a better chance at getting kids and grandkids interested in technology than STEM programs in schools.
"Getting the government to fund STEM programs--as well as English-lit and art programs, among others--simply distorts supply and demand."
"That said, it can't hurt to kindle technical interests with science fairs, robotics competitions, electronic-educational kits, and after-school activities. But we individuals stand a better chance at getting kids and grandkids interested in technology than STEM programs in schools."
Good points, Jon. However, there is one deficit that plagues technology, computer coders. When asked what his biggest challenge was with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg recently said, "Talent!" All of Silicon Valley is competing for talent. They're pressuring the government to open the doors to more Asian imigrants, since we're not growing enough of our own.
The "talent" question is a big one. A few years ago I watched a young but experienced coder write a simple two variable decision by trial and error. For crying out loud: there are only four possibilities the finished piece of code was only nine lines long including closing braces. There was absolutely no reason for it to be done by trial and error.
If this represents the common level of talent available today, there is no wondering why industry is looking elsewhere.
Yes, this is apparently a huge problem -- big enough that the major Valley companies (and probably a zillion small companies) are getting into trouble for raiding each others' employees. There are lawsuits right and left over the abusing of laws meant to discourage corporate raiding.
Hi, Rob. If we need more "coders" or programmers, I lay the blame at the foot of computer-science departments. Kids might get a great academic education, but we need programming craftsmen and craftswomen. Although not a CS major, I took a CS course in grad school to learn more about good programming practices and techniques. The teacher used the Pascal language for examples. Did any real projects use Pascal? Probably not. Some people might argue that if you can program in one language, you can program in all. Not so, in my experience.
I also took a computer-architecture from the EE department. I expected gates, registers, flip flops, etc. No such luck. The teacher used an APL derivative, AHPL, or a hardpware programming language. All we did was write this unreadable pseudo code to do computer operations. The students complained so loudly that the course never got taught that way again. So things have improved, but many academics have little sense for what goes on in the real world and what industries want in science and engineering grads.
Yes, that's a real problem in academia, Jon. I teach part time in the journalism dept. here in New Mexico, and I see the same problem. Most of the instructors have not been in the real world for decades. Bless their hearts, they're dedicated to teaching, but their real-world experience is decades old. The problem is complicated by academic departments that are averse to bringing in practitioners to teach.
When my son reached high school and I found that their only "computer" class available covered word processing, spreadsheets, etc., I was very disappointed that no programming class was available.When I was in high school, I had a computer science major before I graduated (2 semesters of programming in the high school and 6 semesters – 3 hours a day for a year – of programming at a cooperative program with a nearby "career center").When I went to college for electrical engineering, this was a significant advantage – though the languages were different, I was able to pick up and use the new programming concepts much faster – and generally better than most of my classmates.
I found that no high school system in our county or the neighboring counties offered ANY programming courses.Microprocessors are part of a high percentage of all products – from phones to refrigerators.It blows my mind that most school systems have not made this available in one form or another in high schools.I seriously believe that high schools should be offering classes for PC oriented programming and firmware oriented programming – e.g. a robotics elective.I would think that these would be well accepted by today's students and many might actually get excited about learning because of this availability.
Think of the mentality change - from looking for an "app" for something - to creating an "app" for something.Isn't that the mentality change we need for our future innovators?
Mentoring of STEM students would seem to be the best way to stoke tech future. I have been fortunate to have taught engineering economics to sixth graders through Junior Achievement, and mentor a robotics team for BEST (Building Engineering, Science, and Technology). The way the kids responded to teaching/mentoring was incredible. Folks, many of us were fortunate enough to remember the achievements of the "Space Age". Young people these days don't have anything like it that is front and center, but they are very excited when an engineer takes time with them! Government won't fix this completely; it will be each person making a difference, one on one.
Eric Niemi raises a good point when he says, "The U.S. educates the world, why not give our own students an edge?" In Illinois, there's ongoing debate over the fact that the University of Illinois gives admission preference to smart foreign students, while many students of Illinois taxpayers are unable to get into the engineering school. The upside of this policy is that the university's engineering school is rated in the country's top five by U.S. News & World Report, year after year. The downside is that U.S.-born students who grow up in Illinois often end up going out-of-state to study engineering because they can't get into U of I's program.
I entered engineering at the beginning of the space race. Reason was simple. Invest 4 years of hard work and get a top paying job for life. Bonuses were the challenges and intellectual growth that came with solving hard problems. But the key was I could make good money.
THe best and the brightest aren't stupid they go were the money is. Want cheap engineers? Then you will get dumb engineers.
@RaceTruck: According to the last Design News salary survey, engineers aren't doing too bad for ourselves. Compared to most people in this economy, I can't complain. Could I use more money? Sure. But, like you said, I enjoy the opportunity to solve complex challenges every day. I'm able to provide for my family while doing what I love. How many people are able to say that?
@Chuck: Is it true that the University of Illinois gives preference to international students? I live in Illinois, and I'd never heard that, nor was I able to find any news articles about it. My understanding is that preference for both admissions and financial aid is given to Illinois residents -- especially (until recently) friends and family of influential politicians.
Many incoming freshmen are admitted into the university, but are not admitted directly into the College of Engineering. They need to prove themselves in another program before they can transfer into the engineering school.
A much smarter, and less costly, option is to start out in a community college. Most Illinois community college engineering programs allow you to transfer directly into a four-year university with third-year status after completing your associate's degree. The cost is at least 5 times less.
Of course, universities like international students because they pay more tuition. Also, because of the conditions of their visas, they provide universities with a captive labor force. On the other hand, it's also true that they tend to be much more serious about academics and have better study skills. They don't tend to share U.S. cultural attitudes about going to school to party or to "find themselves."
I don't think that it's necessarily true that international students are displacing domestic students. If international students raise the academic level of the university and attract additional research funding, this should result in growth of engineering programs, which should provide more opportunities for both domestic and international students. It's not a zero-sum game.
@ Dave Palmer I also went the JC route, infinitely cheaper and at least in today's world probably better instructors.
Only problem I saw with foreign students was they tend to form teams to do homework. I parially supported myself by being a reader for engineering classes after I took them. It is pretty obvious when homework is done by a team. Most Prof's didn't penalize them, saying the penalty occurs naturally on the Midterms and Finals.
How can we lower cost of an Engineering degree? I worked my way through by working a summer + a semester and going to school for a semester. Doesn't look like you could do this currently.
@RaceTruck: I was able to work my way through college from 2001 - 2005 without taking on any debt, starting in a community college and moving to a four-year private university. Having a 4.0 GPA through two years of community college allowed me to get a 50% tuition scholarship. Government grants (state and federal) paid for another 30% or so of my tuition. I was able to pay for the remainder myself by working full time and living with my parents.
I'm not sure whether this would be possible even now, less than a decade later. The cost of college attendance has gone up a lot in the past few years. I suspect that more students chosing to go to community colleges will exert a downward pressure on tuiton costs of four-year institutions.
You're right about the admissions preference, Dave. I stated it very poorly. Given students of equal background, the Illinois student will always get the nod over the foreign student. However, the frequent complaint has been that foreign students are getting admitted at a higher rate at the University of Illinois than at other Illinois schools. According to U.S. News & World Report, U of I has 8% international students, while Southern Illinois University has 2%, Northern Illinois has 1%, Western Illinois has 1%, Eastern Illinois has 0%, etc. This is because the University of Illinois is a better school, academically. It's where the good foreign students want to go. But it's also where the good Illinois students want to go. The complaints occur when good students who are Illinois residents (i.e., Illinois taxpayers) get bumped by students who aren't Illinois taxpayers, and who may or may not remain in the country. Clearly, U of I's policies are part and parcel of what makes it a better school, but it's hard to blame taxpayers for wondering. Sorry for the way I stated it in my earlier comment.
What the government needs to do to point more people to the technical side is to return to closer regulation of the financial side. The financial folks make a lot more money thann the engineers do, and for actions that don't benefit society nearly as much.
About the engineering salary surveys: it seems obvious that data from the southeastern Michigan area is not included, or else that a whole lot of folks are simply lying! A whole broad spectrum of engineers don't get anything near that big pay.
Really, the prime way to get more people into our area is to make it pay better, a huge majority of folks will select careers based on how much they pay, which is probably a reasonable means of making a choice. So if the financial industry is regulated a bit more so that they are a bit less profitable, those incomes will drop and engineering will have a better chance. Of course, the added benefit is that the financial weasels might not be able to damage our economy like they did a couple of years back. WE are still not recovered form that disaster.
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