Getting Today’s Students Interested in Manufacturing and Engineering Careers

Today’s students represent the future – the next generation of workers – for all manufacturing industries. Back in June, we talked about Why STEM Education and Careers Matter. Now, in this blog post, we’re taking a look at what some schools are doing to get high school and middle school students interested in manufacturing, engineering and all types of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. STEM education initiatives are happening all over the country.

STEM and manufacturingHere in Ohio, a recent article on Cleveland.com reports about Cuyahoga Community College’s Youth Technology Academy (Tri-C YTA), where 600 students from 18 Cleveland high schools take college-level technology classes either at their schools or at Tri-C’s campus. George Bilokonsky, Tri-C’s Executive Director of Technology Academies, says it’s important to expose more high school students to STEM careers, and it’s important to do this in “fun and engaging ways.” He says the YTA is an “exploratory type of program… The kids are interested in technology, but they have no clue of what is out there.”

Bilokonsky says the program presents entry-level classes, many focused on hands-on learning, to give the students an overview of STEM careers, and he notes that “Robotics” tops the list of popular courses at YTA. Students in the robotics course apply the skills they learn and team up with classmates to build “bots” that eventually compete against robots built by other teams across the country. Bilokonsky adds, “It is a lot of fun building robots and going to competitions… But, what really makes this coursework is that students are actually working with their hands as they are learning. They are, for instance, applying the principles of algebra to the design of a robot.”

In reviewing the YTA program, the Cleveland.com article makes an excellent point about the types of students who are taking these special STEM courses and who are being exposed to possible STEM careers: They may not be “uber smart, straight-A students” but they are curious. “Curiosity is the key,” the article says. Bilokonsky explains, “We are not looking for 4.0 grade point averages. We are looking for students that want to learn more about technology, about the way things work… If you have a kid at the back of the classroom taking apart a cell phone, that is who we want.”

The STEM education initiative is also happening in other parts of the U.S. A news report from USNews.com talks about how school districts across the country are expanding their high school STEM curriculums, and how they’re also establishing “STEM centers” in middle schools. The article reports that these types of efforts ensure that “students are consistently exposed to the real-world application of STEM, including technologies used by innovative high-tech companies across the U.S.”

It’s the way that students are being taught about STEM that seems to be making all the difference now. The USNews.com article notes, “Using activity-, project- and problem-based learning to engage students in rigorous and relevant learning experiences is vital to generating their enthusiasm. Hands-on, real-world projects that require integration of STEM subjects help students develop useful skills and take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to everyday life.” Ideally, one day in the near future, these students also will be applying these skills in their STEM careers.

Overall, the STEM education initiative, and the type of teaching and learning behind the initiative, is hopefully motivating today’s students to want to learn more about manufacturing and engineering, and to eventually encourage them to pursue STEM careers.