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Inspiring Youth Interest in STEM

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math 

Sometimes you see STEAM with adds Art to the other disciplines. We'll use STEM and STEAM interchangeably here. From the 1950's and 1960's through the 80's interest in STEM (we weren't calling it STEM back then) was inspired by the space program and the later, somewhat, with the advent of the personal computer although it was the boys showing the most interest. Actually, there were plenty of girls interested in STEM subjects, but it wasn't cool back then so many pursued other avenues. We had music and art classes and something called shop classes where you could learn to build things. Many boys aspired to build the great things of the world; buildings, roads, bridges, inventions etc. Indeed, I was focused on a path to become a civil engineer to build some of those roads and bridges. Then, fresh out of community college, I decided to marry and start a photography business. Go figure. 

Budget Cuts Led to Elimination of Many Music, Art and Shop Classes 

Eventually, budgets began to be cut and art and shop classes, and related equipment, went away. Curiously, there was always plenty of funding for sports. The math, science and technology classes remained with nothing to build. We expected students to stay interested in those subjects strictly from reading and study, with little or no practical application. Many, many lost interest and have not aspired to become engineers and scientists. 

How to Rekindle Youth Interest in STEAM 

In the last few years, our society, especially politicians, policy makers and educators have held many meetings trying to figure out how to interest our youth in STEM subjects. At Fab Lab ICC, we've seen the answer in the three and one-half years we've been operating. You can inspire youth interest in STEM by challenging them to solve problems and giving them physical and digital tools to make things. It really is that simple. 

Creative Mindset Fosters Success 

The key to success in all the STEM fields, both in academics and in real-world application is a creative mindset inspired to solve the problems of the world with new solutions. Challenging young students to solve problems of great interest, to each in their own way, opens their minds to a certain creativity that drives them to learn whatever they need to learn in order to find solutions. In turn, they start to find relevance in the information presented in the technology classes at school. 

Entrepreneurial Thinking and the Fab Lab Experience Stimulate STEM Interest 

Entrepreneurial thinking comes into the picture for all disciplines because of the way entrepreneurs view problems as opportunities for their creative and innovative solutions. We believe the combination of entrepreneurial thinking with the Fab Lab experience is the best way to stimulate interest in STEM and STEAM. We see it all the time in the youth activities that we facilitate or sponsor in the Lab. Whether it be a boot camp for youth during which each camper can make something he or she wants to make or providing space for teams to build robots that solve the problem of navigating through an obstacle course, Sometimes it starts with a visit by students from surrounding school districts to tour the Lab and start to imagine the things they could make. We always challenge them to figure out ways to change the world and tell them they don't have to wait until they get out of school to start. 

Inspiring Problem Solvers for the World's Challenges 

While we won't be teaching any of our boot campers how to build actual bridgesor tall buildings we will and do challenge them to start thinking of ways to solve world problems like poverty or lack of clean water. We see that people of all ages experiencing Fab Lab ICC will become interested in the STEAM subjects as related to the problems they choose to solve in the personal as well as academic and professional lives. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. 


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