Over the past year, various industry leaders in Massachusetts have joined with an unlikely group: elementary educators. Their purpose: begin a conversation about why it is important to hook students onto science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) early on.
Consensus emerged on the importance of developing not just students’ technical abilities, but on "softer" skills as well: curiosity about the world around them, the ability to think on their feet, and resilience in the face of challenges. For many in the industry, hiring employees who can apply higher order thinking to any challenge is far more important than hiring employees who have a specific skill set.
"We want the best people—not necessarily who has the best skills up front," John O’Connor, vice president of Engineering and Technology at Analogic, told a group of elementary educators earlier this year.
"We need people who can think. If you have people who can think, you can teach them to do what they need to do."
O’Connor joined other North Shore industry representatives as part of a first-of-its-kind partnership between industry, Pre K-12 public education, and higher education to support STEM in the elementary classroom called STEMsquared. Over the course of five workshops and a concluding summit, elementary educators from around the state gathered to discuss the importance of developing STEM skills—especially higher order thinking skills—in young students.
The ability to think begins with curiosity, Chris George, vice president of manufacturing for Axcelis, told the educators.
"Your challenge is to go into those classrooms and create a subject that they’re going to be passionate about, that they’re going to want to try to get the right answer to," George said. "And when they don’t get the right answer, you celebrate the losses and the victories the same way, and help everybody work toward finding the solution. Blend in the science, engineering, and technology that’s going to make them really be passionate about asking questions and being inquisitive.”
The heightened focus on standardized testing is not likely to go away, nor will the mounting concern about how U.S. students rank internationally. But for many in industry, what has to come first is the desire to ask questions.
"You guys can give students some confidence that they can do what they want to do, even if they’re not that bookish,” said Morgan Evans, staff scientist at Applied Materials. "It’s really the attitude that matters."
For more about this unique partnership, visit www.stemsquared.org.