Per recent findings, STEM jobs accounted for over 8.8 million positions in 2016 in the United States. This translated to 6.3 percent of the entire job market in the nation. So, it is quite clear that the size and power of this sector have endured a variety of economic swings and political hurdles associated with the 21st century.
The reality of numerous prospective jobs and opportunities for every new STEM graduate is good news for higher education. The demand for experts who can advance science, technology, engineering, and math to even higher levels continues to be higher than the supply. Workforce forecasts also indicate that the vast majority of students who decide to pursue an advanced degree in and associated with STEM will have no issue getting hired when they graduate.
Unfortunately, the clear demand does not necessarily translate to the pursuit, and not every person who is passionate about STEM gets to pursue it as a career choice. The list of reasons why is long and often enough come down to a lack of exposure, access, finances, and other resources. Many industry leaders and universities are working together to address these barriers and are creating local opportunities for students.
According to Dr. Stacey Franklin Jones, a computational scientist with experience in systems architecture and technology management from Boston, it is important to define collaboration in a manner that allows for maximum flexibility.
Collaboration between universities and STEM companies can be loosely characterized as engagement where both parties create long-term plans to assist one another through ongoing communication, development, and strategy that will ultimately be of mutual benefit while advancing their respective fields. In translation, the companies can contribute to the various college programs of their choosing via sponsored activities and scholarships, and commentary on the curriculum. In turn, colleges educate future STEM workers, and faculty introduce innovative ideas to meet industry challenges based on research and other scholarly work.
One of the more obvious ways in which industry helps the educational sector is through financial contributions. Some common examples are contributions that pay for the construction of new campus laboratories, buildings, supercomputers, and the like. Corporations also frequently provide funds to conduct advanced projects that encourage and make use of student involved research. There are, of course, many other instances where corporations invest in pre-college forward student activities such as robotics competitions, coding boot camps, and bug bounty programs.
Sponsorships and Scholarships
Besides donating funds directly to schools, the industry is also keen on helping individual students. There are thousands of individual scholarships available for students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In fact, when the millions of dollars that are made available to students on an annual basis are considered, it is clear that industry views overcoming adversity related to financial difficulty as a priority. Doing so improves accessibility to higher education and gives rise to a greater number of STEM graduates that will soon enter the U.S. labor force. There are also countless industry-sponsored competitions and conferences where college students are invited to showcase their STEM talents.
Innovation and Advancement
Dr. Stacey Franklin Jones also reminds readers of the benefit of industry collaboration with faculty. Collaborative engagement with industry provides an opportunity for faculty to be active partners in innovation and facilitates current and relevant instruction. The result is an in-class, laboratory, and other experiential activity that benefits faculty, students, and the industry partners.
Working together on real-life challenges, given real-life scenarios, advances STEM education, and adds to the greater body of knowledge in the chosen field(s) or discipline(s). Moreover, having the next generation mindsets working on current issues creates fertile ground for new inventions and new ways of thinking about both the questions and the answers. The boom of entrepreneurship is evidence of fresh minds attacking old problems. It’s an undeniable phenomenon.
Even if a collaboration doesn’t result in earthshattering discovery, it can still present a beneficial opportunity for all involved. Industry professionals can learn more about the progress of a discipline(s), and perhaps even more importantly, they can get an up close and personal look at the next round of recruits. It may prompt questions such as What kind of work environment will the new recruits be expecting? What should our onboarding training include/exclude? What incentives will be required to acquire the necessary talent, and what will be needed to retain them? Faculty can learn which applications of their discipline(s) are likely to be most relevant, what are some of the new ‘problems’ industry is facing in their area of expertise, how they might contribute to solving current challenges, and what aspects of their discipline should be emphasized with students. Students can begin to prepare for professional work at a particular firm or in the general industry. Students are also in a better position to connect with a mentor. Perhaps most importantly, students can gain insight on which skills or concept familiarity – like collaborative project management approaches – they may need but do not currently have.
Those mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of mutual benefit. The informal connections can broaden the horizon of each individual and the collective network for future endeavors.