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Stacey Jarrett Wagner: Pie in the Sky and Pi in the Schools

With an increasing focus on STEM education, the Makers of tomorrow can turn science fiction into reality.

 

As Baby Boomers, who would have believed we would live to see nanoparticles that can float through the bloodstream delivering lifesaving drugs? Or sensors on clothing that can monitor and stabilize a medical condition? Or a car being made from a printer?

I loved all things “future” when I was growing up and imagined that, as in episodes of “Star Trek” or “Lost in Space,” humans would look back at my time on this planet and learn lessons I hadn’t even experienced yet because they were in my future. All things were possible!

Most of the time, science fiction ends up merely as a good story. In our lifetime, we might not have flying cars or body parts that could be regenerated. Nor would we wear the fashions of Rudy Gernreich, who declared in the 1960s that both men and women of the future would wear a unisex one-piece jumpsuit inspired by Bauhaus functionalism. That kind of thinking was considered “pie in the sky” fantasy.

Yet while I am relieved not to have to wear Gernreich’s clothing, I am excited about how science, engineering, mathematics and technology are coming together to create the world I do want to live in. A recent example of this was when Robert Downey Jr., of “Iron Man” fame, met a little boy born without one arm. Both Iron Man and the boy took their bionic arms out from their briefcases and fitted them to their shoulders. The boy’s new arm worked from electrical impulses in his brain and was made from a 3D printer.  Then and there he had a new, functioning arm, and fantasy had become reality.

As a strategist for the advanced manufacturing workforce, my job is to look into the future and help identify the skills that will be needed in manufacturing — both now and in the near future. Technology and process innovations have accelerated the rate of change in all manufacturing operations, and U.S. manufacturers are having trouble finding employees who have the right combinations of skills for their businesses.

One thing is certain however; in order to be successfully employed in the future, more American students will need to study science and math. President Barack Obama knows this, declaring it “a priority to train an army of new teachers” in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The administration’s initiative, Educate to Innovate, seeks to create and employ 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next 10 years and is working with private sector companies to help identify and support STEM skill acquisition for future job seekers. Congress, too, is focused on STEM education, with dozens of lawmakers forming a caucus focusing on supporting STEM education and the challenges faced by the public in strengthening STEM initiatives at the federal and state level.

Nationwide, there are myriad STEM initiatives in which both well-off and under-served kids can learn about the fascinating world of science and the art of “making,” which is what manufacturing has become for many young people. They are Makers and attend Maker Faires to link up with other inventors. They participate in robotics competitions and go to summer camps to build things that spring from their imaginations. They want to have fun and save the world, as well.

It’s my guess that there is one young boy out there whose robotic arm changed his world. And now he’s ready to change the world himself.

(Top image: Courtesy of Maker Faire)

Stacey Jarrett Wagner is a principal with The JarrettWagner Group, LLC. JWG specializes in imaginative idea development and implementation for workforce issues such as business/workforce analytics, workforce capacity, alignment of workforce and economic development strategies, post-secondary education transitions and training, research and benchmarking for talent management, non-traditional worker strategies, workforce policy assessment and development, and partnering with philanthropic institutions.

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