Good comments, Thom. There seems to be a disconnect between young people's love of technology products and their interest in participating in that technology as a career. The programming merit badge for Boy Scouts is a tiny move toward connecting tech products with tech activity. Additional programs that make the connection between the tech products kids love and the education to participate in developing those products need to be created.
Giving students Autodesk products will teach them how to use Autodesk products. It will not assist them (much) in learning mechanics of materials, or even that drilling a 1/4" diameter hole (sorry, 6.35 mm hole) through 300mm of steel is a non-trivial exercise.
Autodesk products will make portions of STEM education more fun, easier, etc. They will not eliminate the need for a solid grounding in physics, mechanics, materials, etc.
.... or companies could just pay for STEM jobs. What else would draw students into the field? Cool tech doesn't pay the iphone bill any more than banking or flipping houses. Why bother learning all those equations? A person who has the skills and the discipline to be a good engineer knows that they can make a lot more money doing something else (and usually does).
That's a point. I've heard a lot of "duelling statistics" that claim to prove that the "STEM Crisis" is real, or that it's a myth. A lot of the "myth" crowd argue that the *real* crisis is pay rates for qualified STEM workers, and that the STEM shortfall is a myth promulgated by employers who want more H1B visas issued so they can get STEM talent at lower pay rates. At this point, finding a clear, unbiased opinion on the issue is almost as hard as finding an unbiased set of statistics on global warming -- I don't know who to believe.
On the other side of the Atlantic we also suffer from this, engineering is associated with 'blue collar' dirty hands on work. Being a school govenor, attached to the science dept. and working in scientific research for a living I can understand why so many don't want to do STEM subjects, it's hard work and the end results really don't pay very well compared with middle (mis) management and 'clean hands'...
STEM is a made up term to satisfy peoples' feelings that continue to experiment with our children's education. And although anecdotal, I have been an engineer for 30 years, and have yet to meet my fellow colleague that claims there are open requisitions (except during the telecom boon) waiting for STEM students.
And I would venture a bet that most of us engineers are in our profession because of our admiration of the space program and the computer. The elementary education is and was always there, but putting a man on the moon was new.
What's new today? STEM – LOL you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
Better tools are helpful, but only in the hands of a dedicated artisan. You can't make good product if you don't know the fundamentals of what makes a good product. There is no substitute for learning the fundamentals at the earliest possible opportunity and building consistently on these fundamentals throughout one's school and working life. We all love technology, but to be a builder instead of just another user, it takes a lot more.
Not everyone is cut out for STEM, ie, college. I don't see the 57% as a bad merit factor. That leaves 43% still interested in STEM. The more relevant question is if the number interested in STEM careers equals or is greater than the number of jobs available in STEM?
I see this misconceived notion more and more in all of our society that everyone must go to college. That just does not match our human nature.
I do not believe that students need new stuff to get interested in STEM. In fact I think there is some very old stuff that can provide more inspiration than any CAD package. I am often surprised at the interest that ancient siege machines generate in today's youth for example. The physics and problem solving involved in a Trebuchet is impressive.
I do think that students need to have access to tools but good old fashioned basic tools will serve the purpose just as well. I would love to see a return of metal and wood shops to schools for example.
Most important though is role models, examples, and mentors. Kids need farming. We need farmers to plant the seeds and inspiration, pull the weeds to improve chances of success, and provide water to help the spirit grow. It is probably not entirely coincidental that many of today's engineering schools started out as agricultural schools.
Dean Kamen saw the problem over 20 years ago and did something constructive as a solution. He started FIRST.
There is a long history of students getting involved and becoming wildly enthusiastic about STEM by creating teams to build a robot in 6 weeks. There are incredible accomplishments and successful careers that have been launched by the experience of FIRST.
I have had the privilege of being a Judge and Judge Advisor for 8 years in this annual event which reaches thousands of students from age 6 through 18 typically.
Please check out the link above. FIRST is growing. The Championship is held in St.Louis in April and fills the Edwards Dome for 4 days. It is exciting, energetic and inspirational.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.