When high school students are motivated and also have supportive teachers and administration, they can accomplish a great deal. Such is the case with Claire Wild and Shay Kiker, who are interested in all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). In 2013, they co-founded a club at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to provide an outlet for like-minded students to share and develop their STEM interests.
“Science isn’t just someone in a lab coat,” Kiker says in a U.S. News & World Report article, recognizing early that there are plenty of misconceptions about what it means to work in science or engineering. Wild also realizes there are aspects of STEM in almost every career field.
Wild and Kiker also want to make sure that 13- and 14-year-old students at their alma mater, Hadley Junior High School, understand this as well. Toward that end, the young women took it upon themselves to fill the information gap, rebrand science and technology as not only fun, but practical, and erase whatever “uncool” or derogatory connotations remain, U.S. News reports.
“Our goal is to educate eighth graders right before they enter high school [when] they’re about to make decisions about coursework,” Wild says in the article. “Because maybe they’re interested in [science or math], but they don’t really know a lot yet.”
To do that, in February 2014, the Glenbard West STEM Club sponsored its first-ever Project Innovation (Project I) conference, bringing together dozens of top players in STEM fields including Google, Fermilab, BP Oil, Northwestern School of Medicine, University of Chicago Biomedical Research and the Adler Planetarium. They are currently about to kick off their second Project I conference.
At the conference in 2014, representatives spoke with 420 Hadley students—about one-third of the junior high’s population—during a series of breakout sessions at the half-day conference, giving the students a quick introduction to a variety of fields and a chance to hear from real scientists and real engineers.
“At the end of the day, what Project I is trying to do is help students understand the diversity of careers that are available to them,” says Dr. James Elliott, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in the U.S. News article. “It opens up their minds to what’s available, and helps them see at an early age what day-to-day life looks like for one of these individuals—and how did they get there, and how did they actually navigate this pathway through high school, through college and then the steps that they took to become successful today.”
Another avenue to reach teens and explain and demonstrate the importance of STEM is for companies to create their own STEM initiative. A recent Forbes article offered some tips on how to promote STEM by forming partnerships with local high schools and colleges. Some of the other advice in the article includes develop mentorship programs; create a scholarship in the company’s name for students in the STEM field at a college or university near your headquarter’s location; recruit employees from various departments to visit schools to speak about their jobs and conduct classroom demonstrations to help create enthusiasm; and encourage field trips to your facilities, especially when the projects are visually appealing or exciting.
What are your thoughts on promoting STEM in middle and high schools? Does your company have a partnership with any local schools?