STEM Education – Gotta be in it to win it

As a mainframe programmer and business executive, I’ve learned all about the necessity of educating the next generation of systems programmers and application developers. But how soon is soon enough to influence these people?

My dad was one of the first programmers at his insurance company. He took me under his wing as a 12 year old and kept me excited about programming. My junior high school had teletype HP 2000 computers, punch card machines and a variety of wire on board IBM systems. I took typing in 9th grade to reduce my punch card error decks. Nerd, yes, but thinking of a career already.

National Engineer’s Week beginnings

Years later, attending a seminar hosted by the National Reconnaissance Office, I heard an elderly (70-ish) engineer explain how he and his peers had formed the basis of National Engineers Week to attract the next generation. Based on national pride and a common goal set by President Kennedy to get a man on the moon, he and his peers had gone into engineering to meet those goals. He questioned where today’s call to arms was. Where was the national pride to make a difference? A good question, that I don’t know the answer to either. His goal was to continue to make a difference in his own way.

Business Internships

Likewise, I’ve attempted to make that one of my career goals. No, make it a life goal: mentoring a new generation. When my son graduated high school, I offered internships at IBM to anyone that desired them. One student took me up on the offer after a year of college. Five the next year and a couple more after that. But the result was one high school class of 90 students resulted in five students with full-time jobs at IBM. This is the same school that has the only Future Farmers of America chapter in the county. My job was to open doors and pave a path. The students had to convince hiring managers (internship and full-time) of their value and did.

Elementary School After School Programs

I’m beginning a four-week after school program for grades 3 to 5 in my school district. It started by trying to recruit people at IBM to come to the district for National Engineer’s Week. It didn’t take long for me to decide to do it myself. With the assistance of a local teacher and the school principal, we decided to make this an after school club, once a week, for the month of February. It’s “math” centric, but the reality is, it’s about patterns. Patterns are everywhere in math, science, art, music, programming and business solutions. I had the pleasure to go into the school and give each class a tutorial on patterns in business and the evolution of programming. That was the teaser to getting them to attend the after school program. I don’t know how many will attend the program, but there was a tremendous amount of interest shown in the class. Some immediately grasped the discussion and could predict what I would say next. Several told me that they already wanted to become engineers. This was great news.

Become a coach. Pay it Forward.

We’ve developed a syllabus based on six topic areas and then gathered a large number of websites to aid the kids on their own. There are some terrific resources out there available to anyone that wants to do this themselves. Kids need a challenge, but they could also use a coach. I encourage anyone reading this to volunteer to make a difference in someone else’s career. Pay it forward and you, as well as your students, will reap the benefits in the future.

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