The missing piece: Connecting school work to STEM careers

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Just for a moment, think back to the days when you were in middle school.  Chances are, at some point you asked your teacher, "WHY do we have to study this stuff?"  or "When will I ever USE this stuff?" Students are still asking those questions today, but there is a huge difference in the answers teachers might provide.  How can teachers and guidance counselors keep up with the rapidly changing careers of the 21st century?  More importantly, if we consider the growing shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates, how can corporations provide schools with current information about STEM careers?  What is the corporate role in priming the STEM "pump"?

SAS took on this challenge recently by partnering with Reedy Creek Middle School to launch the first SAS STEM Career Day.  By all accounts, this event stimulated interest in STEM, helped students think more broadly about their career goals and engaged students in activities that helped them see the relevance of what they do in school every day.

Before the event, students watched a video, "The Choice is Yours." In the video, SAS computer programmers, engineers and statisticians enthusiastically describe their careers, reminisce about their favorite high school courses and talk about how their schooling prepared them for the work they do. The video generated rich classroom conversations, and when SAS volunteers arrived at the school later, students were already curious.  Volunteers taught lessons that made the school-to-STEM career connection even more directly.  They showed how computer programming provides the foundation for every product that comes from SAS.

Each lesson began with a video of SAS customers talking about how technology helps them be more successful. The use of SAS by the Orlando Magic, WildTrack (which tracks endangered species using digital images of their footprints), and North Carolina Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services (CJLEADS) provided relatable and compelling examples.

Based on the difference in the pre- and post-surveys, students not only learned about current STEM careers, but they really connected with the enthusiastic SAS volunteers who delivered the lessons. Students were asked if they felt school would prepare them for a STEM career. In the pre-survey, only 56 percent said “yes.”  In the post-survey, it was 84 percent. They now know real-life STEM role models, and see more relevance in what they do in school every day.

We believe this event was well worth the time and effort involved.  Our return on investment will emerge as more students see the relevance of computer science specifically and STEM, in general.  This kind of activity could provide a valid role for any corporation wishing to increase the number of STEM graduates who will fuel a stronger economy for a better tomorrow.  And yes, that is a challenge.

Learn more about how to make STEM and computer science relevant to kids by visiting the Computer Science Education Week homepage. SAS is supporter of CSEdweek, which runs Dec. 9-15.

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About Author

Caroline McCullen

Caroline McCullen is the Director of Education Initiatives at SAS Institute. As a Former National Technology Teacher of the Year, she continues to pursue her greatest passions: supporting activities and organizations that inspire excellence in education and helping schools harness innovative uses of technology to engage students and improve instruction. Her most recent projects focus on science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She continues to work with the SAS Programming for High School course, the Triangle High Five Math Collaborative, and other activities related to excellence in math and technology. She serves on the advisory boards of numerous education organizations, such as the NC Science, Technology and Math Center; Public School Forum; NC Center for After-School Programs; the Governor’s Talent and Workforce Development Committee; and Wake Education Partnership. She holds a B.A. in English with a minor in education from Florida State University and a M.S. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) with a focus on technology from Nova Southeastern University, but she continues to learn every day from teachers and students as they use technology to innovate.

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