Bridging the STEM

April 30, 2017

Scientists and researchers who mixed their professions with politics and activism last weekend left out one crucial ingredient when they hit the streets for a March for Science.

Replicated in an estimated 500 cities around the world, the Boston march criticized climate change scoffers and took aim at proposed federal spending cuts. Although billed as a bipartisan march, the Boston rally predictably took President Trump’s name in vain.

The march’s missing ingredient was a focus on expanding initiatives to combine science, technology, engineering and mathematics and aggressively direct young minds into those pursuits.

Labeled STEM education, this full-court press to engage students in the disciplined pursuits demanding brain power is truly a nonpartisan effort that is ultimately grounded in economics.

Truly life-changing scientific discoveries from two thousand, a thousand or hundreds of years ago were often grounded in solitary efforts marked by the repeated failures that precede all scientific breakthroughs.

The rise of academic institutions and laboratories made science and related fields the domains of the best and brightest. The best and brightest were defined as exclusively men, until women broke into the sciences, made discoveries and expanded research.

Higher education’s mass availability has widened and deepened the STEM brain pool. But high school high achievers were the only young people diving into the water until the relatively recent push to couple science studies with careers accelerated.

In Lynn, that push is centered in strong academic schools such as Washington Elementary dedicated to STEM education. Girls Incorporated has made a relentless push to bridge the wide gap between education, self-esteem and achievement that keeps girls from becoming scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

The STEM movement is gaining traction and has become an accepted element of modern education. But it needs the critical support of people working in STEM fields. The great barrier separating students who are studying the sciences and the skills and credentials required to be a scientist or engineer is the astronomical cost of higher education.

The mathematicians, engineers and scientists who took to the streets last week trumpeted a noble cause. But they would be better served to look to their respective professions and ask how the next generation of STEM professionals is going to afford a university education.

They need to work with the decision makers in the academic institutions they are associated with to expand financial opportunities for kids who are falling in love with chemistry sets and telescopes but have no idea how to get on the path to become a researcher, professor or inventor.

The people who took to the streets with their signs and advanced degrees have an obligation to point out the path and pave the way for young minds to find their way into the research lab and the classroom.