About 18 months ago if someone mentioned STEM in public, you would wonder if it was about flower stems, stem cell research or some other topic. I've made it my mission to make sure that practically everyone now understands that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Last year I teamed up with one of STEM's coolest inventors, Dean Kamen and his FIRST Robotics Championship, to make sure that STEM became a household word through wider news coverage and the i.am FIRST: Science is Rock and Roll primetime TV special. Working together with Dean and other allied industry members, STEM is now better known, but we still have a long way to go to get more U.S. students engaged and interesedt in STEM at a young age.
We are distressed that American culture celebrates athletes and pop stars because they are cool, exciting and glamorous. No disrespect to my fellow musicians and pro athlete friends, but the sobering reality is that only one in a million, or smaller odds, may make it as a pro athlete or become a world famous musician. As a nation, everyone should be celebrating kids who are smart, have found their spark and have a thirst for knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Instead of a one-in-a-million longshot, students who embrace STEM in school have 98 percent odds of making it, and finding a fulfilling and stable career, vs. just a "job."
Every single day, everyone in America uses appliances, products and services that are all STEM-based. When you ride a bicycle, cook with a microwave oven, use a clothes dryer, ride in a car, fly in an airplane, listen to music on a portable player, use a mobile phone or a computer, or receive medical care you should think of scientists, engineers or mathematicians -- all very creative people who made these technologies happen. The hard part is, most of these people behind great products and services are anonymous, and not acknowledged and celebrated like pop stars and pro athletes.
Will you join us to help change this?
Do you recognize these names, and can you associate what these people are best known for? If you can't, you should do some research, and thank these people in life and in death for their contributions to the world across science, technology, engineering and math. Albert Einstein, Nicolas Tesla, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Isaac Newton, Joseph Lister, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Dean founded FIRST Robotics to show what can happen when kids take science and math outside the classroom. FIRST kids and mentors are tomorrow's stars of STEM. FIRST is like the Super Bowl of smarts and knowledge for high school students. Once your FIRST team competes here, colleges, universities and future employers open their doors for you.
We are very curious -- why is it that some kids are less likely than others to opt in to science and math -- particularly minorities and girls? That means these youth are more likely to be shut out of career fields and industries with good growth potential when they graduate from college. And it stands in the way of our goal of truly changing the culture among those that need it most. How to shift how our culture views STEM starts at a young age, and spans across popular culture. Introducing kids to STEM in an interesting and hands-on way is the mission. Encouraging kids to think big, and to dream without shutting down their ideas and experimentation, is vital.
Bringing STEM to life in the classroom, after school and at home are all good ways to get kids more interested. You might have a young Larry Page, Sergei Bryn, Michael Dell, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Leland Melvin or Mark Zuckerberg in the family, but they need some nurturing to be discovered. Just like a budding pop star or pro athlete is identified and nurtured, the kids who become tomorrow's innovators and creators of scientific breakthroughs all have to start somewhere.
In addition to getting a young person you know involved in STEM via a FIRST team, there are plenty of other options. We applaud initiatives like Connect A Million Minds, Time Warner Cable's $100 million commitment to help nurture STEM spirit among young people. Intel Corporation and Google both host science fairs. The White House also hosts a Science Fair to recognize our most promising young students and American companies that support STEM education. Many leading companies award college scholarship funds to promising students, and then nurture and recruit the most talented young people. These organizations are all part of what it will take to help America get its STEM and innovation mojo back.
Students in America ages 10-15 are also now eligible to submit their great ideas and innovations to solve every day, or future problems to Wouldn't It Be Cool If..., a new effort from Time Warner Cable as part of its larger $100 million philanthropic commitment, Connect a Million Minds, and co-presented by my own i.am FIRST, with Dean Kamen's FIRST as a key partner.
Wouldn't It Be Cool If... challenges kids to dream up the coolest idea to make their lives more awesome, and then figure out ways that science and math subjects like nanotechnology, biology or communications technology could help make it happen.
We've gotten the support of the whole FIRST community, and Wouldn't It Be Cool If... is also working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to make sure we can reach as many kids as possible.
We've also enlisted the help of some pretty high profile "special guests," from CEOs to a NASCAR Crew Chief, the Administrator of NASA to "Science Cheerleaders" to visit the site and leave comments on kids' ideas.
The finalists will have their inventive concepts and ideas reviewed by Dean Kamen and myself during the FIRST Championships in St. Louis on April 25. Even better, the winner will have the opportunity to team up with Fahrenheit 212, an innovation firm to bring their idea to life, just like they would do for one of their Fortune 500 clients.
The hundreds of ideas already submitted at www.wouldntitbecoolif.com go way beyond cool -- from a sidewalk that harnesses energy to a portable food allergen detector. This effort shows that when given the chance to combine their own creativity and imagination with science and math, kids can definitely come up with some pretty incredible stuff.
Everyone in America has a role to play in changing the way kids view math and science, and how they answer the age-old question "what do you want to be when you grow up?"