On the first day of the New Schools Project Summer Institute for 2012, I had the pleasure of seeing STEM in action at the LORD Corporation. This was my first true experience with STEM in education and it was enlightening.
Going into the LORD Corporation global headquarters in Cary, NC, I had no clue about this company. Essentially they develop and design materials and products for use in almost every piece of equipment you can think of. The company was started in 1924 by one man who was annoyed by the trolley car outside his home and office that created so much noise. He, with help, developed a material to bond rubber to metal to use on the trolley car to generate less noise and vibration. This is still a big part of what the corporation does today.
The LORD Corporation develops products in items we use everyday ranging from automobiles and airplanes to cell phones and laptops. They have manufacturing and research and design facilities across the globe, but are based in the middle of our state — and the strong STEM programs at UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University play a huge role in that placement. Most of the employees who graciously explained their work to the group were from one of those two universities or were working on advanced degrees from said universities.
The biggest nugget of wisdom that I came away with from discussions with LORD employees is that our K-12 schools need to prepare students to have the “soft skills” in order to be successful in a STEM field. Although these employees had specific backgrounds in chemistry, physics or mathematics, they had to be adaptable. On a routine basis, they have to do research, present their findings, work through the engineering design process, work well with others, and be capable of marketing their work for the company or for clients. Their STEM background gave them the knowledge base they needed to do what most of us would consider the “hard work.”
What those employees wanted to see in the K-12 experience was more focus on how to write and speak clearly and concisely, how to negotiate and collaborate with others, personal experiences, and hands-on training.
Going into my first year at a STEM school, I was concerned about integrating STEM ideas into U.S. History. After seeing what STEM careers can look like today, I’m less worried. Those “soft skills” are things I already try to teach.
The impact the LORD Corporation left me with today was that careers in STEM fields require students to be adaptable, passionate, and well-rounded. That’s something that all teachers want out of their students.
Going STEM isn’t so scary anymore.
Will Prettyman, teacher at Early College EAST in Craven County, submitted this post during NCNSP’s Summer Institute. This annual three-day professional development conference brings together more than 600 educators and leaders from across the state.