Seattle Post to “Light the Fire”

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Up in the Pacific Northwest, representatives from professional societies, educators from area high schools and middle schools, and members of the engineering and scientific communities recently met to kick off a new project—”Light the Fire”—designed to excite students in grades K-12 about studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects and pursuing associated careers.

Light the Fire 2Prominent among the leaders of this new effort is the SAME Seattle Post, as it works to help SAME achieve one of its strategic focus areas: engage and inspire America’s youth to pursue STEM-related degrees and careers.

Engineers and scientists know that a technology-based education provides thinking and problem-solving skills that enable individuals to be successful in their careers. According to a recent Congressional report, “Scientists and engineers are widely believed to be essential to U.S. technological leadership, innovation, manufacturing, and services and thus vital to U.S. economic strength, national defense, and other societal needs (e.g., treating and preventing diseases, ensuring access to affordable energy, protecting and restoring the environment)”.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of scientists and engineers needed to meet growth and net replacement needs between 2012 and 2022 is 2.3 million, including 1.2 million in computer occupations and 544,300 engineers. However, it is no secret that the United States is not producing enough STEM-related college graduates to meet these future demands.

Making a Difference

Today, many organizations provide  scholarships to deserving college students who want to pursue a STEM-related education. Other organizations, including SAME, also provide robust mentoring programs to assist students during the educational process. These efforts are largely focused on students who have already decided to pursue this type of education. The major problem we face today is that there are not enough students in the pipeline who are interested in STEM-related careers.

Seattle-area educators at the "Light the Fire" kickoff meeting in June.

Seattle-area educators at the “Light the Fire” kickoff meeting.

What if we could create an additional 2,000, 20,000, or 200,000 students every year that wanted STEM-related careers? That is the challenge and the reason for the creation of “Light the Fire.”

“Light the Fire” originated during the Self Expression and Leadership Program, which is a course designed to empower individuals and groups to take action and contribute to their communities in an effective way. The objective of “Light the Fire” is to generate excitement around math, science and engineering in elementary, middle and high school students such that they eventually take on technologically related disciplines as career choices. This, subsequently, has the potential to create generations of U.S. and world leaders in science, engineering and related fields.

At its core, “Light the Fire” is about the community of professional societies reaching out to the community of teachers and educators who are literally on the front line, directly charged with engaging youth about the possibilities of STEM-related subjects and careers.

“Light the Fire” differs from most STEM programs in that it fosters a dynamic collaboration between teachers at elementary, middle and high school levels and professional societies/organizations. Teachers are solicited for their ideas and asked to identify resources needed to get students excited about STEM subjects. Schools then are partnered with professional technological societies and organizations, which work with the teachers to provide the resources identified. Resources can include limited financial assistance and connecting youth with inspirational professionals actively involved in STEM-related careers.

This is a unique opportunity for professional societies to band together and apply the power of their combined expertise towards a worthy goal. Such collaboration has many benefits. For schools and teachers, there is an opportunity to enrich current programs and get needed support from professional technical communities. For the individuals and firms comprising these professional societies, they get to directly assist in the creation of a generation of technological leaders and future employees . A collateral benefit to professional societies is that this project is socially relevant and directly affects the children of many of the membership. Therefore, the possibility of engaging young members to become more active is real and will contribute directly to the vibrancy and growth of professional societies.

Fulfilling a Need

“Light the Fire” is designed to be accomplished in stages.

Seattle Post member Joe Souther (right) with members of the Puget Sound Engineering Council.

Seattle Post member Joe Souther (right) with members of the Puget Sound Engineering Council.

The first stage is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014. A pilot program will match a small number of elementary, middle and high schools with professional societies in the Puget Sound Region. The needs of teachers at the test schools have already been identified and members of the SAME Seattle Post are leading the effort to collaborate and ensure success of the project.

Michele Percussi, Seattle Post President, is excited to be part of the initial project efforts.  “The timing for this project could not be more favorable,” she says. “Everyone recognizes the need and wants to help. This is an exceptional opportunity for professional societies and their members to contribute to both their communities and the profession. The kids are the future of this country. We need to make sure that teachers have the tools they need to excite kids about science and engineering.”

SAME Fellow Marty Boivin (left) chats during the "Light the Fire" kickoff meeting.

SAME Fellow Marty Boivin (left) chats during the “Light the Fire” kickoff meeting in June.

During the pilot program, feedback from the teachers will be solicited, as well as some visible sign of increased student excitement for STEM-related studies. One visible sign will take the form of “real world” projects in engineering and science suggested by students and designed by teachers in collaboration with professionals. These projects will be run the same way a design team would approach a project: collaboration; problem solving; developing a proposal; and finally, presenting the chosen solution to the client. Present plans include showcasing student projects at the end of the year at an appropriate function. As the project expands an awards dinner celebrating student accomplishments and providing appropriate recognition for all participants is planned.

The time has come to prime the pump and inspire our country’s youth about STEM subjects and careers. It’s time to “Light the Fire.”

(Contributed by Capt. John K. Callahan Jr., Esq, F.SAME, NOAA (Ret.))

 

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