Over the last 230 years, the United States became a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers and innovators. Today, a little over 4% of the workforce is employed directly in science, engineering, and technology. Yet, this small group of workers is critical to economic innovation and productivity.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are widely regarded as critical to be competitive in the global economy. A growing shortage of science-based talent in our workplaces and universities represents a serious problem for our nation. Expanding and developing the STEM workforce is a critical issue for government, industry leaders, and educators. However, comparatively few American students are pursuing educational majors in STEM career paths.
If we want to attract today’s youth to careers in science, engineering, mathematics, and high-tech manufacturing, we need to show them the variety of career opportunities that exist in these industries. We need to change their perceptions about what the manufacturing industry is like and help them realize that manufacturing careers pay 25-50 percent higher than non-manufacturing jobs, so they will choose to be part of modern manufacturing.
As I have written in past articles, we need to reacquaint youth with the process of designing and building products from an early age and provide them with the opportunities to learn in both traditional and non-traditional ways. Experts agree that we need to restore shop classes to our high schools and establish apprenticeship programs to improve the image of manufacturing careers and portray manufacturing careers as fun and exciting.
The SME (formerly Society of Manufacturing Engineers) “Making Manufacturing Cool” program and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) “Dream It. Do ItTM” program are helping to expose our youth to the modern manufacturing environment and change the image of manufacturing to one that is “cool” and full of exciting career opportunities.
These new programs are building on the work of the non-profit organization, Project Lead The Way®, which has been working since 1997 to promote STEM curriculum for middle and high school students during the school year, along with the Gateway Academy, which is a one- or two-week day camp for 6th – 8th graders that includes team-building exercises, individual and team projects, and utilizes the latest technology to solve problems.
However, none of the above programs are geared specifically to girls, and it is an even bigger challenge to attract girls and young women to technical careers. Studies have shown that when role models and mentors are provided to girls, they are more likely to follow a similar career path.
Now, there is a new program in development by Invincible Enterprises, ME, Inc., an online and mobile app that provides Role Models, a Game Plan and Mentoring options to encourage teens to create a life of fulfilling rewards by enter thriving careers in STE@M industries. Helping with ME, Inc. are advisors with significant workforce, career development, empowerment, and business expertise. The program incorporates a PLAYBOOK for Teens, created by Cari Lyn Vinci & Carleen MacKay, which is available in print and digital format at Amazon.
In the PLAYBOOK, girls can meet fascinating women in STE@M (the “@” stands for “art”) and follow the “plays” of successful young women to help them create their own “Dream Career.” The PLAYBOOK is dedicated to the smart, talented teenage girls who will become the future business owners and leaders in STE@M industries. It will also provide a tool for organization and corporate partners to use to solve their future talent pool problems.
Permission was granted for me to share the following two role model stories:
Allison Goodman’s story – Allison is a young woman with a talent for stretching her limits. Allison, an electrical and computer engineer at Intel, is a pro at solving new problems by creating new, patentable ideas. She is particularly interested in increasing computer speed to help people connect and share data faster than ever before. To accelerate getting information around the world so it feels instantaneous, Allison creates products that are a combination of writing software programs and electrical components that together try to predict what we want to accomplish with our computer.
Her story began when she started to sort out and prioritize the different things that she found interesting. She tried, but couldn’t find that “one thing” that was most important to her. Allison’s father helped by telling her he would pay for ONE year of school – but only if she studied engineering. Since this was the only deal offered, she accepted it and left home for college.
Allison came to appreciate her father’s wisdom. It helped her become self-reliant. Knowing she had to pay for the balance of college, Allison applied for scholarships and soon discovered that scholarships in engineering were not as difficult to get as she had once thought. While Allison had initially struggled to find the “one thing” she wanted to do, she now realizes that the opportunity to study hands-on engineering opened her eyes to a number of options that she had never considered.
Today, Allison finds challenges and opportunities at Intel. She has been able to change roles every few years and her technical talents have led to positions in project management and customer service. Imagine. Allison has travelled to 22 countries on behalf of Intel, has met interesting and dynamic people, continues to learn about the world, and finds that new opportunities are always around the next corner. Fantastic!
Adrienne Huffman’s story – This story tells the tale of a curious young girl who found that computer engineering and electrical engineering both challenged her curiosity. What to do? She graduated from Florida A&M University with two degrees: a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a B.S. in Computer Engineering. Then, she topped off her Bachelor’s degrees with an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State.
In college, Adrienne was active with the National Society of Black Engineers. They provided encouragement and a venue to develop her leadership skills. Adrienne was inspired by members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, an organization she later joined. Adrienne identifies with the motto of Dr. Paulette Walker, the 25th National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Powerful words of inspiration to young women who, in addition to their commitment to academic learning, must develop strong senses of self-worth in order to reach their goals.
Adrienne’s academic interests developed along the way. She, like so many people, began pursuit of a career in computer engineering but found that her interests shifted as she learned. Early influences included her parents who taught her the valuable lessons she lives by today. Notably, they taught her “in order to achieve success, you have to continue to push through hard moments.”
Today, Adrienne is a Hardware Engineer at a Fortune 100 company. Her career has rewarded her with a very comfortable lifestyle even as hard work continues to challenge her. She is very active in community focused, professional organizations, and travels frequently. She takes some time and money for herself and enjoys shopping as a self-directed reward strategy. Many wise people believe that it is this balance of learning, working hard, giving and taking that is the most powerful argument for achieving a life well lived.
At the end of each story, the Playbook Role Models share heart-felt advice for girls to apply to their career path. Then, questions are asked of the reader to help them take the first step to writing their own playbook.
In the “Afterword,” Ms. Vinci and Ms McKay wrote, “Although the young women you read about come from diverse backgrounds and were born with various talents, dreams and personalities, they share several important characteristics. First, they look at life as a year round school. They embrace the role of “student” beyond their formal education. Committed to growth, these ladies are aware and open to the possibilities the world offers. Second, they understand that success is not fast or easy. Failure at the beginning is common and they used early “unsuccessful outcomes” as part of the learning process. They said YES to opportunities and added life experiences to their playbook of skills. Third, these young women took responsibility. They understand, “IT’S UP TO ME TO CREATE THE LIFE I WANT TO LIVE.” Based on a future they dreamed of, they developed the skills necessary to take control and design the lives they want. And, existing resources didn’t determine their success. They succeeded because they believed in themselves. It was their courage, willingness and determination that led them to be exceptional rather than average.”
Utilization of the Playbook for Teens will help teenage girls see that STEM career paths offer enormous opportunities for them to create the life they want to live. Perhaps SME, NAM and Project Lead The Way® would benefit from incorporating the Playbook for Teens into their programs.