The science of making scientists

As the 8th season of Science Cafe New Hampshire begins, we wanted to tackle a topic that’s critical to New Hampshire’s future and essential to generations to come. For years we’ve wanted to cover ‘The Science of Making Scientists’ and now we will! The Wednesday evening, Science Cafe will be discussing STEM education and the critical role technology will play in our future. How can we best prepare our children (and ourselves) for life in the internet age?

Science, technology engineering and math are commonly referred to as STEM education and, over the course of recent history, graduates from these fields have produced unimaginable innovations that literally changed how we live, work and interact with each other. And, as Bill Gates famously said, this is not the beginning of the end of technology, but “the end of the beginning”.

In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine an English major who cannot use a word processor, or an accountant who can’t program a calculator, or an economist who lack the ability to run simulations. As technology becomes ever more entwined with everyday life, everyone needs to have some level of technical competence to survive. Rejecting technology is no longer an option.

So if we can’t even guess the kinds of jobs that will exist in 5, 10, or 20 years and the rate of change keeps accelerating, how can we hope to adequately prepare students to meet such an ill-formed challenge? If technology is now integral in even the most menial jobs, what skills do our children need to not only cope in society but to qualify for the kinds of opportunities for employment that deliver the quality of life we’ve come to expect? How can we inspire enthusiasm and curiosity for a lifetime?

Preparing today’s students demands that we understand the importance of choices, even very early on, and make a conscious effort to plan, guide and encourage kids in directions that give them the skills and flexibility to deal with an uncertain, but surely technology based, future. What can we as parents, or grandparents, do?

Curriculum is critical. STEM fields are organized into a progression of courses and planning cannot begin too early. Parents should engage with their schools, teachers and guidance counselors to better understand what STEM courses are offered, their child’s aptitude, and how course selection choices lead to a variety of outcomes. Without proper guidance, student graduating high school may be surprised to learn that they are not qualified to enter certain disciplines without remedial courses that cost time, energy and cold, hard cash. Understanding choices and planning are key.

But success in STEM classes depends both on aptitude AND attitude. Too often students lose interest in STEM classes, feel they are too difficult or irrelevant. Too often this happens to girls. Fortunately, a host of STEM enrichment programs have emerged over the past decade or two that have proven to generate enthusiasm and lasting engagement. Chief among these is FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), our own New Hampshire idea for fun and learning using Legos, robotics and the challenge of solving problems as a team. These programs are a critical complement to the classroom and serve to ignite and unite students around STEM as interesting, challenging and fun.

In the bigger picture, why is this important to the future of New Hampshire? Because that future is now about global competition and the relentless pace of innovation. Because opportunity will flow to where the talent is. Because a strong tech sector has been the foundation of New Hampshire’s economy for decades. Because people with vision for the revitalization of New Hampshire (such as Dean Kamen’s recent foray into tissue and organ manufacturing) will need an educated workforce of STEM talent to draw from.

It’s important because without the human talent, all of these visions will fail. STEM graduates are essential to the future of our state.

As always, Science Café is free, open to the public and offers a place where the community can engage in civil discourse, talk science, have a beer, learn from each other and enjoy a safe haven for the geeks among us. Come join the conversation!

Held at the Riverwalk Café and Music Bar. You can learn more about Science Café New Hampshire at www.ScienceCafeNH.org.

Dan Marcek is co-founder of Science Café New Hampshire and can be reached at dan@vetflix.org.

If You Go:

The Science of Making Scientists

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

6:00-8:00pm

The Riverwalk Café and Music Bar

35 Railroad Square, Nashua