Success isn’t an art form. For Michael Van Eaton, it’s a science.
This is quite literally true. He has spent most of his life learning, studying, and pursuing a variety of science-based endeavors. After nearly a decade in education, where he taught chemistry, the WA resident is taking the plunge into data analytics. Working in the corporate industry, Michael Van Eaton hopes to find a career pathway that will enable him to sharpen his research and investigative skills to find real-world, practical solutions. He is currently studying data analytics at a New York-based organization to aid his journey.
Yet these ideas aren’t revolutionary. In the mid-1990s, Michael Van Eaton earned a Bachelor’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering and Chemistry from Purdue University. But his interest in science was sparked long before even that. A science-based curriculum ignited Michael Van Eaton and his passion for learning long ago.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs are not new or novel concepts. In fact, the educational movement dates back to the 1950s. Then, U.S. lawmakers feared that Russia was surpassing the nation’s youth in technological innovation at the height of the space race. While its origins are rooted in Cold War-era politics, STEM is far from outdated. Today, STEM is just fighting a different war.
But, this time, the battle is much more physical. Forced online during the global pandemic, many school districts had no choice but to adopt a virtual curriculum. Although digital and media literacy is vital in developing a modern workforce, nothing can replace the value of STEM.
From his experience as a student, educator, and professional, Michael Van Eaton knows firsthand the importance, and with this in mind, he discusses five important qualities of a STEM curriculum.
“Think outside the box” isn’t just a mantra. In STEM, it’s the standard operating procedure. It’s a practice that’s encouraged, nurtured, and built into the very fabric of the curriculum. Academic freedom is at a premium. Students are pushed to explore, experiment, and challenge conventional norms and boundaries. While it may sound merely theoretical or borderline cliche, the real-world implications are profound. Without risk, innovation is non-existent.
Fosters critical thinking
This natural curiosity breeds creativity. STEM students ask questions. But they have the ability to answer them as well. Learners are equipped with the tools to think through problems and develop solutions. Using a logical, data-driven approach, there is no issue that can’t be solved. Students implement step-by-step methodologies to break down problems into smaller, more manageable components. This capacity for critical thinking is invaluable for any industry. Yet it yields several beneficial byproducts too. A zest for curiosity produces lifelong learners who are intrinsically motivated. Any workplace relishes having employees who exhibit these mental habits.
These processes, procedures, and practices are rooted in the scientific method. This experimentation is what propels advancement, as evidenced by the recent achievements in the field of artificial intelligence. It’s a structured methodology. But within this framework, students have the freedom to create and grow. Yet, most importantly, they have the opportunity to fail. “Trial and error” is a key step along the way. STEM students aren’t just immune to a fear of failure. They embrace it. STEM classrooms emphasize low-pressure, supportive learning environments where practitioners aren’t afraid of failing. Ultimately, these are learned lessons that advance the overall educational objectives.
Learning does not exist in a vacuum. And complex problems can rarely be solved by a lone individual. It requires teamwork. STEM curriculums are designed around this very principle. These programs ditch a “one-man-band” mentality. Instead, students must exhibit collaboration and communication. That’s why so many STEM learning outcomes are project-based. In a group setting, learners must identify core issues, test hypotheses, record data, draft reports, and present conclusions. All of this is only achieved through the collective efforts of a team. For this reason alone, STEM produces leaders. Working well with others teaches empathy and open-mindedness. STEM establishes workers who are comfortable with giving and receiving feedback.
Prepares for the future
STEM is the present because, for its students, it’s also the future. STEM isn’t just about knowledge acquisition. It centers on utility and application. Technological advancements, like coding and AI, are inextricably linked with this type of learning. This has enabled STEM to withstand the test of time. And it won’t be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates an 8.8% increase in all STEM-based careers by 2028. Additionally, a recent Pew Research Center study revealed that these jobs pay more too. In fact, full-time STEM employees can expect to make about $30,000 higher salaries, proving that investments in science and mathematics truly pay off.