People are becoming “more aware of how important it is to start early developing those (STEM) skills for students,” said Susan Castillo, vice president of the Western region for Project Lead the Way.
The Indianapolis-based nonprofit provides K-12 curriculum aligned around three pathways – engineering, biomedical science and computer science in 8,000 schools across the country and more than 70 Arizona schools, Castillo said.
“Starting in kindergarten, we have students learning about the engineering design process, working in groups, collaborating and starting to develop those problem solving skills, those critical thinking skills, and doing presentations,” Castillo said.
Project Lead the Way also partners with industries across the country.
“Our students are doing. They’re creating. They’re applying math and science in real-world ways. They’re solving problems,” Castillo said.
“They’re learning there’s more than one way to solve a problem,” Castillo said. “They’re learning that it’s OK to not find a solution the first time. They learn persistence and that if you continue to try that you can do it.”
Interesting all youth in science, technology, engineering and math is important, and work-based learning experiences can help them see themselves working in those fields, said Scott Solberg, professor of education at Boston University during a panel at the Southwest Pathways Conference.
“STEM is one of the big areas where we’re not getting youth of color, youth with disabilities and women into,” Solberg said.
“I think that it’s work-based learning that will change that,” Solberg said. “Not because they’ll get skills – it’s not skills – it’s having a caring and engaging adult in that work setting saying you belong here. It’s about apprenticeship.”
That’s critical because results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s technology and engineering literacy assessment showed that girls outperformed boys in nearly every category of the assessment, according to an article in U.S. News & World Report.
Yet, many youth of color and girls move away from STEM at an early age, so they don’t even consider those fields for careers, Solberg said.
“We need to actively change that by putting them into those settings, and saying yes, you can belong here, you can thrive here and this can be (for) you.”
Strengthening community college STEM pathways will increase the quality and quantity of STEM students who begin there to achieve certificates, associates, bachelors and graduate degrees, said Caroline VanIngen-Dunn, director of community college STEM pathways for the Science Foundation of Arizona at the Southwest Pathways Conference.
Community colleges reach out to K-12 students through on-campus activities, and work with industry to develop internships that provide students the work experiences that are a critical part of students’ career success, VanIngen-Dunn said.