OK, maybe that’s not the best slogan for a new STEM initiative marketing campaign. I’ll leave that up to the experts. But a marketing campaign is exactly what the Obama Administration is talking about with its new Educate to Innovate campaign. And it’s exactly what the Prosperity Partnership has been talking about as well:
3. Develop and implement a marketing pilot project to inform students, parents, and educators of opportunities in high demand fields and the relevance of math and science to these fields and motivate students to take these classes…
When we successfully advocated for an increase in funding for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math degrees at our state’s higher education institutions, we knew that part of the effort had to be building a pipeline of students who wanted to fill those slots. Otherwise, you have what we’re getting now, which is a lot of foreign-born students coming to the U.S., getting STEM degrees, taking them back to their respective countries and then beating us in technology and innovation.
Of course, what it’s really about is inspiration. I happen to be too young to actually know, but according to my elders, the space race and the moon landing captured the imaginations of thousands of aspiring engineers. And there’s actually lots of cool stuff now. The internet and video games are super fun, but they require high tech knowledge to work on. And clean technology appeals to the younger generation’s environmentally friendly ethics.
What’s hard is that you need to be proficient in math by a very young age to even have a shot at successfully pursuing these fields, and it’s hard to get a fourth grader to be thinking in a focused way about their college major and their professional career; I was pretty convinced that I was going to be a baseball player or a spy in fourth grade. So it really does take this kind of comprehensive, fully integrated marketing push to change attitudes and make the connection. It’s a huge lift, no doubt…being smart is not that cool when you’re young. But if it’s about making robots and video games and car fuel out of algae, maybe it can be.