Over the past months, I traveled to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in an effort to refocus the country’s educational system on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields that will define our future. While it may not be surprising that a wealthy and a forward-thinking country such as the UAE would commit itself to a new vision for STEM, even poorer countries like Brazil are seriously rethinking how they prepare their citizens for the 21st century economy. It’s encouraging to see these countries prioritize STEM. But it’s also a reminder that we can and should be doing more in the United States and more specifically, right here in Idaho.
In reality, STEM is the model for education for the Innovation Age, rather than the current system that is set up for the Industrial Age. It is the methodology of teaching the modern-day skills needed for a competitive workforce and to be expert learners. It is a mindset of problem-solving and a culture of perseverance and accomplishment. In fact, in North Carolina, STEM is known as “Strategies That Engage Minds.” This type of innovative approach to education is good for all stakeholders: students, teachers, parents and the state itself. It also teaches skills viewed as essential by employers.
Critical thinking and problem-solving. Collaboration. Adaptability. Effective communication. Analysis. Curiosity and imagination. Initiative and entrepreneurship. Those are the seven survival skills that Dr. Tony Wagner has determined businesses want to see. They are also foundational elements of a STEM education.
A view to the future is why we’ve been working to integrate these skills in Idaho. The nonprofit organization I lead, STEM Revolution, has a proven model to help schools integrate STEM into their curricula, from basic proficiency to a fully dedicated STEM school like the North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum. Students in this traditionally underserved, rural area are taking learning to new heights. A group from the school recently won a competitive grant from NASA — making the academy the only high school to win a grant among prestigious colleges and research labs — and will launch their own satellite this fall. Project DaVinci is an inspiration to students everywhere of what’s possible.
How do we scale this more broadly? Idaho could also join states like Ohio and Tennessee in creating standalone regional STEM schools that can serve as beta sites for STEM education, focusing on preparing our students for the careers of tomorrow. All Idaho schools should have the opportunity and support to do a STEM shift.
Idaho is nimble enough, it can lead the nation and the world in learning for the Innovative Age, but we need everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction — government, schools, teachers, parents and employers. If disparate countries like the UAE and Brazil can prioritize STEM, I know Idaho can lead the way in a country that has placed a high value on education since its very founding.
Dr. Lorna Finman is the CEO of defense manufacturer LCF Enterprises in Post Falls and CEO of Boise-based STEM Revolution.