West Monroe recently was a proud sponsor of the Washington STEM Summit, a day-long gathering of local and national education STEM thought leaders, innovators and champions who are united by a desire to advance excellence, innovation, and equity in STEM education. As deep technologists, we at West Monroe feel passionate about making STEM education accessible to all students, to increase the diversity of the technology talent pipeline as well as to close the gap that exists between education opportunities and skills needed by employers.
The summit included STEM excursions that took us on site visits to see real examples of learning in action; a youth panel; a keynote address by civil rights icon Bob Moses; interactive breakout sessions; and a panel conversation on equity. Below are our top takeaways from the event.
The definition of STEM must evolve. Mary Snapp, Washington STEM board member and Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Philanthropies, cited a statistic that 65% of students today will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet. Thus, the hard skills related to STEM are less important than the other attributes gained through STEM education such as creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and cultural competency. STEM education is being recognized as a foundational component of basic education for all students to simply be proficient members of society.
At the same time, computer science is spreading to other areas like liberal arts, design and social studies, and students are encouraged to apply STEM interest to industries that don’t require a four-year degree, like cosmetology. To reinforce this message, a key theme of the summit was #everydaySTEM and each speaker declared their favorite everyday STEM item in their intros, which included objects as varied as skis, GPS systems, fruit, and travel coffee tumblers.
Equity and inclusivity is more important than ever. There continues to be a push to make STEM an inclusive field that reflects the diversity of our community, and a large driving force is to make access to and quality of computer science and tech education equitable across the state, including in rural communities. We tend to take certain things for granted that impact equitable access to STEM education – assuming for instance, that all students have internet access or are able to pay the fees for extra-curricular activities. Another issue is representation—making sure children recognize themselves when they interact with practitioners in the community.
Looking at ways to break down these barriers and make sure kids have the necessary support is key. The redefinition of STEM, described above, is also helping to break down those barriers and make the field more inclusive.
Business and education is an important partnership for every age level. Amazon recently launched an initiative around educational tools and toys, and Microsoft hosted us in their Education Workshop, where we got to experiment with pre-packaged teaching kits in robotics, IoT and VR. Software companies like Facebook and Microsoft are leading the way in providing teachers with tools to help kids get a leg up on STEM careers using the latest technologies.
— Joe Davey (@JoeDavWMPTech) November 28, 2017
At the same time, high school and college students are at a much more advanced level of mastery in areas like CS and engineering, due in large part to the exposure they are gaining through early and consistent interaction with computers, software, and coding segments like Hour of Code and Code.org.
Several educators challenged schools and businesses to be ready with more advanced topics and roles for graduates as they come out, and to not necessarily expect to need to teach them the fundamentals. Educator and business leaders need to stay on top of trends themselves and make sure they have an understanding of new skills and tools.
Beyond the key learnings described above, perhaps the most important takeaway was the connections we made at the event that helped inform how West Monroe can get more involved to advance STEM education in our community. Are you an educator or business leader in a STEM field? What do you think are the most critical issues to consider as we seek to promote and grow STEM education? Let us know in the comments below.