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Tiny Mooresville Grabs White House Stage

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy, Office of Science & Technology, leads a Digital Promise panel of educators and technologists.

“So Dr. Edwards, can you explain to the audience what’s behind the success you’ve had at Mooresville, in implementing technology that has so changed students lives?” The question was posed by Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy in the Office of Science and Technology. Kalil was moderating a panel of distinguished educators and technologists – and the venue? A White House conference called on creating more access for technology in US K-12 schools.

I was not at all surprised to see Dr. Edwards on the White House stage on this beautiful fall day. In fact I saw all this coming when I first visited the tiny hamlet of Mooresville, North Carolina, back in April of this year. The more classrooms I was pulled into, the more kids I saw “leaning in”, the more the “buzz” reflected off the cinder hallway walls…the more I figured there was to the Mooresville story.

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STEM and the U.S. Manufacturing Conundrum

The Conundrum

In my most recent blog “U.S. manufacturing: is it sustainable?“, I referenced an article about how U.S. manufacturing has been leading the economy out of the depths of the Great Recession.  The authors put forward a thesis with supporting data that suggest Americans believe the manufacturing industry is the basis for wealth creation and is fundamental to a sustained and successful U.S. economy.

The rub is that only 30% of Americans said they have or would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

Why such a discrepancy? An answer to this question is not simple. However, I do believe we must seek that answer and address the gap, if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Being an engineer myself–a manufacturing and controls engineer no less–I know the first and most essential step to a solution is making sure we’ve defined the problem well.

A 2009 survey by the American Society for Quality, as reported on manufacturing.net, helps to shine a light on our problem.

According to the survey, the top three reasons why kids aren’t interested in engineering:

  • Kids don’t know much about engineering (44 percent).
  • Kids prefer a more exciting career than engineering (30 percent).
  • They don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills (21 percent) to be good at it. This is despite the fact that the largest number of kids ranked math (22 percent) and science (17 percent) as their favorite subjects.

Survey findings on the adult side:

  • Only 20 percent of parents have encouraged or will encourage their child(ren) to consider an engineering career.
  • The vast majority of parents (97 percent) believe that knowledge of math and science will help their children have a successful career.

So, while American children and adults both feel that math and science are important (even enjoyable), there is an ironic disconnect (cognitive dissociation?) between recognizing the importance and committing to pursue a career in engineering and manufacturing.

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Youth: An Economic Disaster or an Economic Asset?

Making Education Relevant is the topic for the next debate in the Cisco-Promethean Education Fast Forward series. Having steered two children through 16 years of the US education system, I can tell you that THAT particular topic sparked a raging debate over the dinner table every night.  It went something like this: “Mom, why do I need to learn quadratic equations?” Or, the ever present simple“Why?”. While I am delighted to hear that academics and practitioners continue to debate education’s relevancy, I can tell you that, as a young mother, I wished someone had armed me with better answers than, “Because you have to.” Read More »

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Jobs vs Skills: a conundrum based on myth?

The Economist held its annual conference on Human Potential last week in NYC. It could just as well have been named: ‘Job Acquisition vs. Job Skills: the Great Mis-match of our Generation,’ echoing the title of their special report by Matthew Bishop. For two days, panelists and speakers discussed this dilemma: “The abundance of jobs and the shortage of skilled workers.” Yes, I did say, abundance of jobs. Education took center stage of this conundrum many times, only to be quickly ignored because of the complexity of the solution. Like the Medusa with her head of many snakes, each education challenge begets a new challenge, which, in turn, becomes so intertwined that we run from it, screaming for relief. Read More »

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So…Where ARE the Women in I.T.?

In 2005, The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology published a report entitled “Where are the Women in Information Technology?”  Six years later, we’re still asking that same question—the focus of an article this week in Bloomberg/Business Week. Shockingly, the article reports that although women hold about half the jobs in the U.S. economy, they represent less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and math positions. Ultimately, we need to not only stem the flow of women leaving the industry, but also leaving the associated fields of study in college.

Sunday evening, at a fundraiser dinner, a friend of mine who works for another technology company raised this same question. Looking around the room, she pointed out several of the brightest minds in technology, who happen to be women, and questioned why they weren’t more visible within their organizations and within the industry. Clearly, there’s an opportunity for our industry to make a big shift, but what will it take?

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