STEM: For a Successful Future
In today’s world, we are ever more dependent on technology for an ever-increasing number of everyday tasks, it is clear that STEM programmes will play a vital role going forward. Many developed countries have already focused significantly on building a school and university curriculum based on STEM. The rest of the world is also following this path.
STEM learning, at its core, simply means educating students in four specific disciplines, namely, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. STEM education is important, and the earlier the better. Early exposure to STEM can have a great impact on a young student’s interests and eventual life, as well as career choices.
For students to succeed, they need to be equipped with the right knowledge and skillset, with which they can progress towards a bright future. We all know that our upbringing and early experiences have had a lot to do with who we are today. Therefore, to build a successful career for our students today, we need to motivate them towards pursuing a STEM-based lifestyle.
Take the present-day technology giants as an example. They seem to be no different and were probably also influenced by their early childhood experiences and education. Once upon a time, before they were ‘Sundar Pichai’ or ‘Mark Zuckerberg,’ they were also 10-year old students attending the same STEM classes and playing in the same school playgrounds that your kids are.
Let us now have a look at how STEM learning influenced some of these people before they became world-renowned as tech prodigies.
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Mark Zuckerberg developed an interest in STEM at a very tender age, thanks to his father, who had made it a point to expose all his children to computers and technology early on. Zuckerberg was so intrigued by computers, he created a messaging program at the age of 12, all by himself! He used the programming language ‘Atari BASIC,’ which was quite popular at that time, to develop his program. He called his invention, ‘ZuckNet.’
His father was quick to identify his genius and he encouraged his talents further. He was one of the first adopters of the program, employing it in his dental office as well as around their house for communication. Seeing the success of his software motivated Zuckerberg to dwell further into programming. He used to create video games for fun, during his free time.
Seeing his immense interest in programming, Zuckerberg’s father hired a computer tutor to provide private lessons, but he realized that his son’s knowledge quickly outgrew that of his teacher. While in high school, Zuckerberg took computer graduate classes at a nearby college, to advance his programming knowledge.
With such a great understanding of programming, it was no surprise that he got into Harvard University in his first try. He took Computer science courses, and eventually a social messaging platform for the students of the university. This platform has now grown to what we know as ‘Facebook.’
Taking a step back, we understand that the talents and accomplishments of Zuckerberg are quite rare. We all cannot expect our students to go ahead and create another ‘Facebook.’ Nevertheless, the basic principles still hold: Of an early exposure to STEM programmes and the resulting opportunities. So, following the same footsteps of providing the current students with early-on STEM exposure, we will never know what greatness they are capable of attaining.
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Elon Musk was born and brought up in South Africa. He describes his childhood as being rough, but he found his escape through his early interests in computers and technology. When he was 10, Musk started to teach himself programming, and within the next 2 years, he was skilled enough to design a video game named, ‘Blaster.’ The game was so good for its time, its code was soon purchased by a magazine called ‘PC and Office Technology’ for $500!
In 1992, Musk went to the USA to pursue his undergraduate degree in economics and physics at the University of Pennsylvania. During this time, he pursued two summer programmes at Silicon Valley, where his interests in the internet and technology were cemented. After graduation, Musk joined for a Ph.D. in Material Sciences at Stanford University but soon dropped out to pursue his interests in technology.
Soon after, he launched his first startup called ‘Zip2 Corporation’ which acted as the foundation stone for his success later. He has since assumed the roles of CEO of ‘Tesla Motors’ and Founder of ‘Space Exploration Technologies Corp,’ which we all know as ‘SpaceX.’
Unlike Zuckerberg, Musk had a difficult childhood with no one to encourage him to pursue STEM learning. Instead, he discovered his interests himself, which he converted into something more tangible, that the world could appreciate. His story is very relatable, as every student can create their own video game if provided the right knowledge and resources. Luckily, the opportunities and tools at the disposal of today’s kids are more readily available than they have ever been.
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Sundar Pichai was born and brought up in India. He belonged to a middle-class family and lived most of his childhood and teenage years in a modest 2-bedroom apartment in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Pichai was identified by his teachers as being a brilliant student in school, especially in his science and maths subjects.
Owing to his academic brilliance and interests in STEM, Pichai got admission in the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, India, one of the highest-ranked technology universities in Asia as well as the world. He pursued a bachelor’s in Metallurgical Engineering, after which he proceeded to graduate from Stanford University with a master’s in Material Science.
Next, he also pursued an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania. Pichai was recognized as one of the most talented students in both the universities that he attended and he won several accolades for his academic prowess.
Pichai joined Google in 2004, where he led the product management and innovation efforts for a suite of Google’s client software products. He led the teams responsible for Google Chrome and Chrome OS and was also largely responsible for Google Drive.
He went on to oversee the development of other applications such as Gmail, Google Maps, and many other software applications, that Google is synonymous with, presently.
Pichai was an exceptional leader and could efficiently foresee the success of several Google products. Seeing his ability to lead, Larry Page, then CEO of Google, appointed Pichai as the next CEO of Google on August 10, 2015.
Pichai’s life story is a lot to take inspiration from. Although he had a very modest upbringing in a developing country, he was still able to find his passion for STEM learning. His teachers helped him understand his strengths, which ultimately lead him to become the person we know today.
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Susan Wojcicki was born in a family that already knew the importance of education. Her father taught physics at Stanford University while her mother worked as an educator and journalist. Due to this focus on education and nurturing one’s curiosity and independence, Wojcicki developed a scientific and business mindset very early on, so much so, that she started her first business of selling ‘spice ropes’ door to door at the age of 11!
She went ahead to pursue a degree in humanities from Harvard University, taking her first computer class only as a senior. Although she had initially planned to pursue a career in academics, she changed her mind when she learned about the career opportunities that technology could offer.
That was where her journey in the world of tech began, and today we know her as the CEO of YouTube and one of the leading women in technology.
We can learn a good amount from Wojcicki’s success story. She had no particular interest in a STEM career, to begin with. But, because she got the necessary exposure early on in her life, thanks to her education-focused upbringing, she was able to make an informed decision about her career at the right time. Her story also shows us that even though you do not have a requisite degree in STEM, having the proper knowledge and abilities would still allow you to have a successful career in the STEM domain.
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Jeff Bezos showed an early interest in STEM learning as a young student, following an innate curiosity in understanding how things worked. He was lovingly called ‘The Little Inventor’ in and around his house because of the reputation he had earned of breaking and making things.
As a toddler, he was able to take his crib apart using just a screwdriver, and then he built his electrical alarm system to keep his siblings out of his room. Soon after, he set up a ‘workshop’ in his parent’s garage, where he spent a significant part of his day building various toys and taking apart household items to learn how they worked.
In high school, Bezos further developed his love for technology and business when he started his first endeavor, the ‘Dream Institute’, an education science camp for 4th-6th graders. The camp was a great learning experience for young students and became an instant hit in his school.
Bezos went ahead to follow his love for computers, by pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Princeton University. After graduation, Bezos tried his hand at a career in finance, but eventually, quit to make a career out of his love for technology. He started an online bookstore, that has now grown to become the eCommerce giant, ‘Amazon.’
If we look back, it all started with Bezos nurturing his scientific curiosity. Bezos made it a point to make the most out of every opportunity that he got while keeping his love for science and technology alive. With every step, he came closer to becoming the successful businessman that we know him as today.
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Virginia Rometty was the eldest of four children in an Italian-American family. After her parents divorced and her father left their family, they had to go through a very rough patch, with her mother working multiple jobs to feed her kids. Rometty was only 15 at that time and had to take up the responsibility of looking after her younger siblings after school, while her mother went to work.
Rometty always had a budding curiosity about STEM subjects. She finally got the chance to explore further into this domain, when she started college at Northwestern University, pursuing a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. She was able to get into such a prestigious college, thanks to a scholarship that was offered to her by ‘General Motors,’ where she had worked during a summer school between her junior and senior years.
Rometty joined IBM in 1981, and after working there for 31 years in various technological and management positions, she was named the first woman President and CEO of the company in 2012. Her name was featured in Fortune magazine’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women in Business for 10 consecutive years, and in the number one position for the years 2012, 2013, and 2014. She was also mentioned in Forbes magazine’s ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful People’ list in 2014.
While there is a lot to learn from Rometty’s success story, we can make one important observation here, that is, there are still very few women in tech. This has been a common trend in our society and the STEM fields alike. This calls for urgent changes in the curriculum, such that girls are not hindered to enroll in courses that matter to them.
Importance of STEM Learning Early On
The best way to prepare young students for the future is to ensure that they have a strong foundation in STEM. One of the most effective ways to enhance interest in STEM is to attend summer programmes. Since STEM is an application-based curriculum, the principles taught here are applied in many scientific fields and major industries across the world.
Many organizations, especially in the UK, are well-known for the summer schools they organize for enthusiastic STEM students. These organizations have tie-ups with many renowned industries and state-of-the-art research facilities in and around the UK. They allow students to visit these places to gain hands-on experience with current STEM research.
The students also get to interact with scientists and industry professionals working in various fields of STEM. They get to explore a number of these fields, while also interacting with other students, from all over the world, who have similar interests. This exercise helps them realize their passion and gain the confidence to cement their careers in the STEM sector.