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Making STEM cool

Colleges and UniversitiesLockheed Martin Corp.FBIUniversity of Maryland Baltimore County

Fourteen percent of the engineering workforce. Twenty-seven percent in math and science careers. Twenty-five percent in professional IT jobs.

The number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers is dismal. As is the number of minorities pursuing STEM careers; consider that African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians earn just 18 percent of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering. This despite the fact that STEM occupations are estimated to grow at a rate 1.7 times faster than non-STEM jobs between 2008 and 2018. The jobs are out there — now how can we get more qualified women and minorities to fill them?

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a compelling new report, Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success, which found that community colleges can play a critical role in increasing women's access to STEM training and careers. AAUW is right. These same colleges are also vital to increasing the number of minorities who pursue STEM careers.

But we must do more to create a pipeline of girls and minorities interested in STEM careers at a young age — and ensure they are prepared for the demands of college and career. While many school systems across the country are doing incredible work engaging students in STEM disciplines, the schools cannot go it alone.

Lockheed Martin has made a commitment to K-12 schools across our nation to help engineering and math "come alive." In Baltimore County, we work directly with the superintendent to understand which schools need help infusing exciting STEM curricula into the classroom. At Woodlawn Middle School, we have a dedicated STEM ambassador who partners with teachers and visits classrooms to "put a face on engineering" and provide that career role model that many young students are seeking. Students at Woodlawn have been surprised to learn about the fulfilling work of today's engineers: from protecting against cybersecurity attacks against our energy utilities and financial markets, to helping provide the infrastructure for the next generation of digital health care, to supporting the FBI and law enforcement in decreasing terrorist threats with cutting-edge identification tools. In a nutshell, STEM workers today are helping to solve many of the major challenges facing our nation.

Studies show that those with more opportunities to engage in STEM-related activities, such as science fairs, projects and clubs, are more likely to go onto STEM careers and have accomplishments in STEM fields. This summer, 12 high school girls had the opportunity to attend the first ever Montgomery County Girlz Engineering Camp, which consisted of three days of classroom experiments and exercises introducing engineering concepts. The camp culminated with a field trip to our facility in Crystal City, Va., where the high schoolers were briefed on alternative energy resources, learned about space and missile technology, and experienced a simulated helicopter flight over Washington, D.C. The group was joined by our Transportation Solutions vice president, who shared her background and career choices. "Two things I will tell you," our VP said when asked advice about building a career. "Number one is focus on what you like to do and something that excites you; and two, don't be afraid to do hard things. It's the hard projects that have helped me grow the most."

That's sound advice, and we have to ensure that girls and minorities interested in STEM hear it again and again throughout their schooling. But we also must be conscious of the "image" issue that still exists today when it comes to math and science. As a STEM congressional report recently noted, "While not easy to quantify, to the extent that math and science are not considered 'cool' among image-conscious high school students, inevitably many talented young people will be turned off from pursuing degrees and careers in STEM fields." Fortunately, groups such as the Entertainment Industries Council are working to increase the collaboration between STEM experts and the entertainment industry to strengthen how engineers and scientists are portrayed in entertainment media. Hopefully that will help dispel some of the myths that still exist today about engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

Perhaps the final piece in the STEM puzzle — in addition to exciting curriculum, great teachers and hands-on experiences — is ensuring that girls and minorities interested in STEM have a role model that "looks like them" who can give them advice. As an African-American female, it was vital that I had someone to turn to who would understand the opportunities and challenges ahead. From the time I decided to enter engineering, I have had mentors push me, guide me and ultimately, inspire me. And I tried hard to pay that forward and have seen first hand the impact of mentoring. I've challenged those around me both at work and in my community to make time to forge these relationships that can be so rewarding. The student they inspire today could help solve our nation's critical challenges in the future.

Stephanie C. Hill is president and general manager of Lockheed Martin's Information Systems & Global Solutions-Civil product line. A graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, she lives in Baltimore. Her email is stephaniecolehill@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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