An emerging spin on STEM learning arms students with the skills to apply their knowledge more creatively and succeed in today’s entrepreneurial world.
When we think about the skills Americans will need to get jobs in the 21st century, we have become accustomed to the acronym STEM. Standing for science, technology, engineering and math, STEM knowledge drives the core deliverables within U.S. industries. As we work our way through the early part of this century, STEM impact is already on the rise, and there are some growing trends to be aware of—beginning with the concept of STEM itself.
Arts, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
According to Bill Cullifer and Mark DuBois of the World Organization of Webmasters (WebProfessionals.org), the letters A, I and E—for arts, innovation and entrepreneurship—are transforming the STEM acronym into STEAMIE. In response, they, along with the many talented members of WebProfessionals.org, have created a fast-moving initiative called STEM to STEAMIE (stemtosteamie.org).
Through the addition of arts, innovation and entrepreneurship, STEM learners are better armed with the skills they need to work creatively and successfully apply their knowledge. DuBois explains that “arts, innovation and entrepreneurship learning help to foster imagination into STEM knowledge by showing it a rigorous process.”
A cornerstone leader of technology talent development, DuBois understands rigorous process. The director of education at WebProfessionals.org and professor of web systems at Illinois Central College, he has been teaching design, development, security and accessibility full-time since 1999, and working with web technologies since 1992. At ICC, he created the first accredited AAS degree in web systems in the world, as well as the first accredited certificate in rich Internet application development.
DuBois and Cullifer expect STEAMIE to have great impact. Exploring learning through the creative process of designing a business around it (E), or a user experience that leverages it (I), drives the motivation to learn faster, while active learning makes the experience more memorable. Cullifer says these programs “introduce students to design thinking, user interface and experience, and the creative process opens their minds to critical thinking, solving problems, and working better with others.”
The Community College As Powerhouse
Both Cullifer and DuBois hold director-level positions with the World Organization of Webmasters, a nonprofit professional association established in 1996 to provide community, education and certification for web professionals worldwide. The organization focuses on learning, objective guidance and employment requirements in web development programs at community colleges. When considering the shifts in education in the early part of this revolutionary century, it’s inspiring to see the reemergence of community colleges as key powerhouses for providing impactful workforce education.
The Brookings Institute recently released a study outlining the growth in openings in STEM-related positions not requiring a bachelor’s degree. Many workers in these positions seek training at the community college level, earning an associate’s degree or training certification. Programs are often created for the geographic-specific industries located within each community college district, and fast-tracked to deliver graduates into ready and waiting positions.
Learning opportunities at the community college level are deeply impactful on the lives of those who utilize them, as shorter terms of learning can propel learners directly into the industries of their interest. Degree and certificate programs empower students with the knowledge and credentials toward gaining employment positions of prosperity. It is surprising, because when one thinks of STEM jobs, it’s easy to think that the education requirements will be bachelor’s or master’s degrees in engineering or computer science. Unexpectedly, the trend watchers and economic development planners are seeing something quite different.
A Wisconsin study recently featured in a documentary called Manufacturing the Future expounded that in July 2011, 54 percent of the state’s current jobs and 46 percent of its projected need required less than a bachelor’s degree. Within the STEM-driven industries of central Illinois, these are the jobs the region is working to fill, and our community colleges are stepping up to match employer needs with the programs that can fulfill them.
What sets college programs apart is often an interdisciplinary approach toward learning. Working collaboratively across traditional pathways and creating new curriculums that introduce a wider context helps learners apply their skills constructively. We can see this locally in the collaboration between Bradley University’s engineering and business schools, as well as ICC’s healthcare and Caterpillar Dealer Service Technology programs. Additionally, emerging industries like digital, computer-aided design and game design have surprisingly diverse interdisciplinary curriculums.
It is the interdisciplinary applications of STEAMIE which lend themselves to the technology-driven industries of code and web development. DuBois outlines that real-world applications of understanding come out in wonderfully strange ways. For instance, he explains that when IBM began hiring programmers, it noticed those who were “most adept” were also musicians. The talent and skills developed through training helped them build structure into data much the same way they build structure into musical notes.
Innovation and entrepreneurialism enters the picture to help learners make progress on pushing their ideas forward. It is no surprise that entrepreneurial learning is being mainstreamed. The decimation of key U.S. industries, paired with the benefits reaped from the new industries being created, place startups at the cutting edge of the U.S. economy. Startups have provided nearly all the net new jobs created over the last 30 years, according to Startup America Partnership, an initiative focused on connecting startups with the relationships, knowledge and opportunities needed to succeed.
WebProfessionals.org is right there with them. In fact, it recently teamed up with SkillsUSA to launch Start Something Today, a contest that prompts students to build their business ideas, provides them with insight and assistance in crafting their business plans, and connects them with free entrepreneurial training and mentoring. Winners of the contest will be awarded and introduced to a strong investor network. Cullifer said the organization wanted to motivate students to jump into their ideas even while they were in school. “The best time to work on these ideas is now.” The contest is open to college students and runs from September 15th to December 15, 2013. Learn more at startsomethingtoday.org. iBi
Amy Lambert is co-founder of Startup Peoria.