ThomasNet, publisher of IMT Career Journal, on April 1 launched the ThomasNet North American Manufacturing Scholarship program to actively help the manufacturing sector close the STEM skills gap, providing up to 30 scholarships of $1,000 each to high-achieving students pursue their dreams in engineering, skilled trades, and supply chain management/business operations. Students have until July 1 to apply.
In conjunction with the new scholarship from ThomasNet, IMT Career Journal’s Leadership Q&A Series speaks with leaders in both academia and industry about pertinent issues affecting STEM education and workforce development. Here, we sought Melissa Carl, manager of government relations for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), who handles public-policy-related STEM workforce and diversity issues, as well as manages the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE) program for ASME.
Carl, who holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, has also served as the Washington, D.C., representative for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) since 2005.
Carl discusses the importance of fostering technological literacy in early education, supporting hands-on science competitions, motivating girls to pursue careers in STEM fields, and more.
IMT Career Journal: Research suggests that the U.S. is not producing enough engineers for various reasons, among them being a culture that doesn’t sufficiently prioritize STEM education. What can be done to elevate STEM education as a national priority?
Carl: In short, the United States must align its K-12 core curriculum to the expectations of its 21st century workforce. Strong K-12 STEM education is vital not just for those students wishing to pursue technical degrees in higher education, but for all students.
Debates about health care, energy policy, and telecommunications, to name a few, all center on technology and the public’s use and understanding of technology. In a world where so many issues of public debate are based on technology, all citizens should be technologically literate and able to participate and function fully in society.
IMT Career Journal: Are there proven ways of introducing engineering and science concepts both in early education and in professional training?
Carl: ASME has been supportive of the just-released next-generation science standards since their inception, especially since it is the first time engineering content has been included in science standards in such a meaningful way. The meaningful integration of engineering practices into the K-12 classroom will promote critical thinking, provide new levels of relevancy to motivate students to learn science content, make engineering and engineering careers more accessible to all students, and prepare the next generation to solve global problems facing humanity.
In difficult economic times, too, STEM training at any level is a good investment. According to a 2011 Commerce Department study, growth in STEM jobs over the past 10 years was three times faster than growth in non-STEM jobs.
IMT Career Journal: ASME is heavily involved in a variety of competitions every year for engineering students, particularly targeting students interested in design and robotics. How helpful are these hands-on competitions in engaging youth in STEM skills?
Carl: Hands-on science and engineering programs, competitions, and camps are wonderful introductions to STEM for students even as young as elementary grades. Especially for girls, these experiences can prove very motivating and educational about what real-world engineering involves. At the college level, design competitions can supplement curriculum in a valuable way that employers recognize when they are hiring.
Given the current concern for the state of STEM education in U.S. schools and the fact that the number of jobs requiring engineering and scientific training continues to grow, ASME supports greater exposure to quality non-traditional STEM programs, to ensure that America’s future leaders remain competitive in the global economy.
One example is FIRST Robotics, which is an excellent vehicle that links industrial technology knowledge and skills with higher-level academic learning in other areas. Non-traditional STEM programs, especially those built on problem-based learning in a competitive environment, will give students the skills they need to be successful in engineering programs of study or in engineering careers, while also creating opportunities for teachers and students to be mentored by STEM professionals.
IMT Career Journal: You mentioned hands-on programs being particularly beneficial to girls. Considering your role with the SWE, why do you think women – such a large potential source of STEM talent – are so underrepresented among STEM workers?
Carl: In 2010, women were awarded 18.1 percent of engineering degrees, while African Americans and Hispanics represented only 4.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively. While these numbers do represent significant gains from the 1980s, there is still much work that needs to be done.
With the predicted changes in future U.S. workforce demographics by the middle of the 21st century, increasing the participation of women and underrepresented groups in the U.S. STEM workforce is essential to bolster the percentage of the U.S. technically trained workforce. By dramatically improving the participation of these individuals in the STEM workforce, the U.S. would ensure its future leaders remain competitive in the global economy. Adoption of the Changing the Conversation messaging and approaches will highlight that engineering is a creative profession that impacts the health, happiness and safety of people around the world.
There is a mismatch between career aspirations of girls and their – and the public’s – image of an engineering career. Few role models are apparent to girls, and images of engineering and the engineering profession frequently feature objects or men. Girls frequently underestimate their capabilities in math and science and overestimate the expertise required in math and science to be successful in engineering. The adult influencers of girls – from parents to teachers to adults in their communities – often discourage girls from entering such a male-dominated profession.
IMT Career Journal: Do you have any advice for the younger generation of students considering a career in a STEM discipline?
Carl: Engineering education can lead to a flexible and rewarding career path, both in STEM occupations and in many broader areas, from teaching to international business to law. Getting early experience, like the hands-on robotics or science camps and competitions previously mentioned, can motivate young people, especially girls and underrepresented minorities, to know their strengths, take the math and science courses that will advance their goals, and realize how much engineering can offer them.
Read additional IMT Career Journal Leadership Q&A Series interviews: