Saturday, February 11, 2012

Raising interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)

ASQ Influential Voices
by Nergis Soylemez

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski writes in February's blog: "How can we, those who understand, use, and love science and technology, pass it along? For those outside of the U.S., how is STEM taught and encouraged in your country?". When I was in elementary school, math and science were not my favorite subjects. I had a hard time understanding the logic. I have always been a top student throughout my school years, but something had to happen to change my views on math and science in order to keep it that way. My parents did a great job in encouraging me and my sister to do well in school without enforcing it on us. My father graduated from the top rated technical university in Turkey so he definitely loved math and science. He is one of those people who can hold hundreds of phone numbers in his memory for years! In 6th grade, I was challenged even more in math class as it was getting harder to comprehend. I was feeling upset about this so I approached my parents for some help. My father said to me, "If you give me an hour of your time, I guarantee you will get it", and that's exactly what happened. That "one hour" changed everything for me. I was also lucky to have great math teachers in later years. My father's love and passion for math and science led the way for me to become an engineer and I thank him for that. His teachings were simple and easy to understand. There is no benefit in complicating math in early stages of education. If children get the basics right, everything else will make more sense.

I had the opportunity to attend senior year in high school in the U.S. and I witnessed the challenge students were facing in math and science. I asked myself why there is a lack of interest. Again, the answer that I found was that students were missing the basics. What I decided to do was to help students and start tutoring on basics. I pretty much continued to do this throughout my college years. Remembering the past, one of my friends ended up getting A's in college algebra after a couple math sessions. I strongly believe that if teachers can simplify math for students, there will be more interest. Also, showing students the magic of math surrounding our lives, will encourage them to pass it along to their classmates. If a student is good in math and science, why not ask him/her to volunteer in tutoring other students? That way, passion and knowledge is shared and students' confidence elevates.

University of North Texas, where I graduated as an engineer, hosted a great program called DC BEST during my undergrad years. Students from different schools in the area compete against each other by showing off their creations "robots". You won't believe the level of teamwork, excitement, passion and creativity coming out of these young students. As their website states, " Engineers and other technical professionals from local industries serve as team mentors who advise and guide students through the design and construction of their machines". http://robotevents.com/robot-competitions/best/ Isn't it a great way of encouraging younger generations in math and science and preparing them to become the next superstars of engineering and technology?

The future of STEM is promising. As parents, teachers, mentors and professionals, we can do better in developing technical skills among younger generations by focusing on the basics and keeping it fun!

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