Tag Archives: STEM education

technical education career training looking at petri dish

How to build the next generation of innovators

The average Millennial sends 67 text messages per day – one every 15 minutes of their waking lives. The next generation is inherently tech savvy because they have spent their whole lives around tech. It is easy to imagine that our future will be an unprecedented avalanche of innovation as these digital natives grow into their roles developing tomorrow’s technology.

But there is a difference between understanding technology and being an innovator of it. While the number of text messages sent by teenagers continues to climb, America’s educational readiness has been falling. In 2013 only 36 percent of high school graduates were prepared for college-level science classes.

Education in science, mathematics, and technology disciplines remains crucial. It is impossible to be a technology innovator without the strong fundamentals of a STEM education. Tomorrow’s biotech leaders need access to strong biology, mathematics and engineering curriculums today. Tomorrow’s software wizards are enrolled in computer science classes right now.

As important as those fundamentals are, we must remember that innovation tends to occur at the fringes between disciplines. Driverless cars occur at the intersection of automotive and computing engineering. Augmented reality innovators require an understanding of human psychology in addition to expertise in engineering and computer science. It is not enough to simply educate our youth in STEM disciplines. We must encourage their spirit of innovation by inviting them to explore the powerful results of intertwining specializations.

It can be difficult to foster interdisciplinary interconnectedness in the classroom. Because innovation occurs on new frontiers, tomorrow’s developments will occur at crossroads we haven’t yet imagined. How can we ask educators to write a curriculum to cover a convergence still undreamed of?

We need to encourage today’s youth to participate in experiential learning activities held outside the classroom. By providing them with hands-on educational projects, activities, and seminars, we can organically introduce young people to the power of lateral thinking and cross-curricular synergy. While we cannot predict what skillsets will overlap to produce tomorrow’s epicenter of innovation, we can make sure the next generation is practiced at looking for it.

The Arizona SciTech Festival is a great example of a program that gets this right. The festival features events from an impressive variety of fields, from coding to manufacturing polymers to directing videos. By enabling young people to engage in a wide swath of activities, we can help inspire tomorrow’s visionaries who will make the quantum-leap discoveries that occur at the interface between different disciplines.

But as proud as I am of the SciTech Festival as a Foundational Partner, it’s just a start. Businesses, academic institutions and technology innovators need to keep coming together to advance STEM education. We must invite today’s youth to participate in programs that encourage interdisciplinary overlap and engage multiple skill sets simultaneously. Leaders of all stripes can collaborate to encourage young people to practice making new connections. We know great things happen when you get bioscience and business together, and when materials manufacturers and industrial designers inspire one another. We need to get that message out to young people.

Outreach to youth can have a significant impact. Young people consider environmental responsibility to be of paramount importance. My own children would react with horror to the idea of dumping chemical runoff into a river, yet that practice was routine only two generations ago. The environmental movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s had a big impact on teachers, who brought conservation messaging into their classrooms. We can see the results: Contentiousness about sustainability isn’t just widespread but viscerally important to today’s youth.

Imagine the impact we can have on the technology leaders of tomorrow if we invite teachers to support STEM education with the same enthusiasm with which they support environmental awareness. Imagine those teaching efforts being backed up by business and technology leaders coming together to create extracurricular spaces where young people could employ the toolsets from many disciplines at once. Tomorrow’s leaders will be blazing trails along frontiers we haven’t even imagined. Let’s get them excited about exploring.

Steve Zylstra.photo_.1Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.

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$20,000 APS grant funds TGen education initiative

A $20,000 grant from the APS Foundation will help the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) expand its TGen2School initiative by providing science kits and instruction in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

The kits and accompanying instruction for teachers are part of the TGen2School initiative at TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division – TGen North – in Flagstaff, where some of the world’s top experts in disease-causing microorganisms study everything from valley fever to MRSA and even anthrax and plague.

TGen North’s Bio-SEEK: Bio-Science Education Enrichments Kits Program provides five different types of bioscience education kits for teachers and their students. The goal is improved overall scientific literacy, and a better-prepared bioscience workforce.

The program includes instructional sessions to help educators use the kits to teach such concepts as infectious disease and genomic testing methods, biosafety procedures, bioinformatics, and how DNA is used in forensics, public health and other life sciences.

“These are ideal tools that teachers can use to convey complex concepts in ways students can easily absorb, and it lessens the burden on the pocketbooks of teachers,” said Zsuzsi Kovacs, TGen North’s STEM Education Coordinator. “These kits are built on next-generation science standards and bioscience basics that students need to succeed in the genome-age.”

TGen will provide instruction for teachers during professional development days at TGen North, 3051 W. Shamrell Blvd., southeast of Interstate 17 and the exit to the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport.

“Commercial bioscience kits often contain limited directions, making teaching concepts challenging when teachers already have so much on their plate,” Kovacs said. “With professional development and teacher-friendly directions, educators will be able to adapt them in a way that is best for their students.”

Thanks to the APS Foundation’s grant, the newly developed kits will be provided at no charge through a checkout system available to teachers who have attended the professional training.

TGen2School initiative aligns with the goals of David Engelthaler, TGen North’s Director of Programs and Operations, one of the leaders in STEM education in Flagstaff, which in 2012 became the nation’s first STEM City.

“With initial funding from the Flagstaff Community Foundation (FCF) and others, we have placed a concerted effort into our TGen2School program,” said Engelthaler, a former State Epidemiologist for the State of Arizona. “We are so excited that the APS Foundation has decided to help us. Their grant will allow us to grow and expand our program in a direction that better meets the needs of our teachers.”

The grant to TGen North was one of 15, totaling more than $500,000, made by the Foundation to non-profit organizations throughout Arizona and New Mexico. Of the 30 fastest growing occupations projected through 2016, more than half will require mastery of STEM subjects, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We at the APS Foundation applaud the efforts of all the organizations who received the grants,” said Julie Coleman, Executive Director of the APS Foundation. “We are pleased to be able to help support and encourage non-profits who engage in promoting STEM education, and other educational efforts, to increase student achievement. Success in education will result in a healthy society, strong economy and robust Arizona.”