By Guest Contributor Frank Beider | Windstream Communications
Science, technology, education and math education is the key to the Upstate’s and South Carolina’s economic future
When you see voice over IP (VOIP), long-term evolution (LTE) or high-speed Internet on fiber optic cable, you are seeing the results of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). You may have associated these terms with the digital revolution but are not aware that you use them in your daily lives. Every time you make a call with your smartphone, watch a video or play an online game, you are relying on individuals with STEM skills. They design, implement and maintain our digital communications world.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the information communications technology (ICT) sector will add more than a million jobs in the next 10 years. President Obama announced $107 million in grants to create educational programs in technology skills. Science, technology, engineering and math teachers need these new programs now because what they teach, like broadband services, will carry our work life, educational systems, entertainment and health care industries into the future.
Manufacturing in the United States will need STEM graduates in advanced manufacturing – not for unskilled positions, but for planning, testing, improving and implementing the life-enhancing new products for a world market. The Upstate STEM Collaborative was founded by Michelin, GE and Fluor. With the educators of Greenville, Spartanburg, Pickens and Anderson counties, the STEM group is collaborating with Furman University, Clemson University and Greenville Technical College to produce courses our students need and the jobs of the future require.
Furman University has had a five-year mentorship STEM program for middle school students to help teens find careers. Project Lead The Way is a STEM curriculum for high schoolers that teaches the principles of engineering, computer-integrated manufacturing, digital electronics and aerospace engineering. There are 553 students enrolled in these programs in six of our local Greenville high schools.
The middle school STEM curriculum is Gateway to Technology and the Greenville area has 2,200 young people enrolled in these classes that teach design, modeling, automation, robotics, green environment and medical method. And various schools offer STEM-connected extracurricular activities including the National Guard, Junior Achievement, Robotics, IT-ology’s CyberSaturdays, Upstate AHEC, Medex Academy and others.
Greenville Tech’s Center for Manufacturing Innovation near CU-ICAR will give side-by-side, hands-on experiences with engineering professionals. The goal is to create an internationally recognized learning environment that integrates research and education to meet industry needs.
What other ways are technical colleges helping to address future STEM workforce needs? In addition to the CMI, Greenville Technical College is working with Midlands Tech and Spartanburg Community College on a grant application to the U.S. Department of Labor. If awarded, funds will be used to grow the information technology workforce in innovative ways that best meet South Carolina employer needs. The project is being spearheaded by New Carolina, the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness.
Our state is not alone in the effort to improve STEM education. In Wisconsin, Harley-Davidson partnered with Milwaukee’s inner-city Washington High School for its 16th annual i-Fair. Local companies offer booths with technology applications and experiences. This event introduces STEM hands-on activities to girls and boys and is inspiring careers.
These students deserve our kudos and our support.
I personally see the direct impact of STEM education on an individual’s job prospects. Being an instructor at Greenville Tech, teaching technology subjects such as VOIP and Internet technologies, I transfer the skills employers are looking for. Voice will be carried over fiber optic cable, and the landline will be a historical artifact. Employers need technicians to install, service and maintain their complex data and voice volume. With my encouragement, these students go on to find gainful employment with Upstate employers.
What is the impact on South Carolina?
We are creating more opportunities for teaching these careers. We need to fill our classrooms with eager, motivated young women and men who want a lifelong, challenging job. According to the US Department of Commerce, STEM jobs earn 26 percent more than the average starting job.
This uptick in salary stimulates the local economy. It improves the tax base and keeps the hometown talent here. This benefits graduates’ families, friends and communities. Our social structures will remain free from constant job search, turnover and unemployment. The physical infrastructure can be improved. Better roads, traffic flow and secure power lines are already in the pipeline. They will create civil engineering jobs. They, in turn, will attract larger, better technology-focused industries.
These jobs are here now and will be the employment future for our area. They are STEM-based jobs, which use problem solving, innovation and collaboration. They favor “out of the box” thinking. I believe that placing our emphasis on STEM education and training will make the Upstate’s and all of South Carolina’s economy more secure for the future.
Frank Beider has a B.S. in electrical engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He is an engineer with Windstream Communications and an adjunct instructor at Greenville Technical College, transferring his passion for science, technology, engineering and math to students.