If my 35-year career in the tech industry has taught me anything, it is that we need to educate children in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills NOW to prepare them for our future tomorrow. If we miss this opportunity, we may see these fields start to slip behind their potential in the not-too-distant future. We are already on the cusp of such impact. The Smithsonian Science Education Center has projected that 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled this year. That statistic alone should be a wake-up call for the tech industry to not only support but actively push opportunities for STEM development within school systems worldwide. If not for our collective future, for the future of their businesses.
The good news is that I have seen a lot of mobilization in this area in recent years. Many organizations and companies, Keysight included, have programs focused on STEM education and outreach to school-aged students. As an example, my colleague, Rice Williams, recently discussed the Keysight After School program in his post Making STEM Visible to Children through Invisible Forces – Figuratively and Literally! Such efforts provide hands-on experiences for children in a rich learning environment supported by individuals active in STEM fields. It is great hearing about, and actively participating in, such programs. But that is not what I want to talk about today. Today, I want to talk about a different angle to STEM education. One that supports the same goals, but through a different, yet critically important avenue … the teachers.
Teachers are on the front-line of educating future engineers and scientists
While they have many tools to choose from, for many teachers, private industry is a mystery. Some have never worked outside a classroom and have no experience understanding the needs and expectations of the companies that will ultimately employ their students in the future. That is where companies can help: educating our educators on what technology companies do, who they hire, why they operate, and the skills needed in their future workforce. Ultimately, such engagements can help teachers develop learning plans that align to corporate needs while answering the age-old question from students of “why do I need to learn this?”
To this end, Keysight employees collaborated with the CTE (Career Technical Education) Foundation and Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) to develop a Teacher Externship Program. The goal of the program is for teachers to gain local industry experience for a week, enabling them to develop project-based learning (PBL) lesson plans from their experience to take back to the classroom.
As an example of the program in action, Keysight headquarters recently hosted six teachers from Rancho Cotate High School and Tech Middle School for a week of full-day sessions. In this event, a broad cross-section of teachers – in math, English, language arts, and fashion design disciplines – engaged with Keysight presenters that shared their own journeys at the company, their roles, and the future employee skillsets needed in their fields. In addition, the event had teachers take part in a role-reversal, playing the role of students. In a unique twist, during the event, an 11th-grade teacher participant had lunch with a former student who now works at Keysight. They chatted about how high school did and did not prepare him for work here.
By exposing these teachers to what it takes to work in a technology company and experience the student perspective, they gained new insights about the process of learning and what it means to work in a technology company. A participating 6th-grade teacher noted to me that the Keysight employee stories were invaluable and motivated them to create and implement new classroom projects. And as Brandon Jewell, Director of Industry Engagement, CTE Foundation noted, “your team provided unique insight into the skills needed to enter the industry while also giving teachers a hands-on experience that will be critical as the teachers build their projects and will positively impact their future teachings going forward.”
Teacher Externship Program for STEM: gaining traction and recognition
While the program was developed in 2014, it has now spread to several other companies across Sonoma County and other Keysight offices, fostering value-added connections between teachers and local industry. Over the last several years, the program has been extended to other local companies and collectively have trained dozens of teachers and impacted thousands of students as we help to build the STEM workforce of the future. I was thrilled when Keysight and the SCOE were recently recognized by the State of California Department of Education at the California STEM Symposium for the program, giving it increased visibility as a program that any tech company can consider.
Now it’s your turn. If your business has not already started a similar program, consider this concept as an opportunity to expand efforts in the STEM education space. You won’t regret it!