It is important that we exert some leadership to get our youth interested in science, technology and engineering subjects. Sometimes I get a little weary of over-the-top marketing efforts, though. But the SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) Education Foundation is doing some great work in the area.

The reason I cite “over-the-top” marketing is the headline in yesterday’s press release from the organization, ” ‘Made in America’ Will Go Away without Investment in STEM-based Education.” The Foundation announced that The Andersen Corporate Foundation, Bayport, Minn., has funded $25,000 to the SME Education Foundation for its Gateway Academy, a national, technology-based program for 6th-8th graders offering science, technology, engineering education. The Andersen gift will cover the cost of Gateway Academies in Minnesota, New Jersey and Western Wisconsin, where Andersen has manufacturing facilities and employees.

From the press release, “The tagline ‘Made in America’ will go away without increasing investment in STEM-based education. As skilled labor shortages continue to hold back various sectors of U.S. manufacturing, national organizations are looking at their investment strategies and realizing they have to direct funding to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs to protect their own longevity.

“An example of the importance of STEM, and maintaining our competitive position as a research and development and technical powerhouse leader, is China. According to economists, China   has supplanted Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. To maintain its position, China needs our research and development and resultant advanced technology. In a recent article, published in the Wall Street Journal (August 16), ‘China dangles rare-earth resources to lure investment,’ a ‘technology-for resources’ strategy would invite electronics manufacturers and automakers to set up rare-earth processing plants in China giving them access to low labor costs and access to fast-growing markets. This is a just one of the growing examples of why it is not just important, but mandatory, that technology-based education in this country accelerate.”

The SME Education Foundation, which has become a catalyst for STEM education, offers a hands-on, real-world curriculum designed by Project Lead The Way (PLTW) through its Gateway Academy, the fastest-growing formal and rigorous education program in the country. Educators at the Gateway Academy aren’t just teachers and instructors, they’re lifelong learners trained to inspire and motivate young minds. In 2010, the SME Education Foundation held 237 Gateway Academies and reached over 4,800 students in 34 states.

Business and industry leaders joining Andersen in funding the Gateway Academy program include: American Electric Power (AEP), Emerson, Haworth, Kern Family Foundation, Kennametal and SME Education Foundation. This year, thanks to these supporters, the SME Education Foundation grant funded $815,000 to Project Lead The Way.

Here are a couple of examples of the sessions:

At Tomahawk High School in Wausau, Wis., the 4-H Gateway Academy, middle-school students took part in the week-long program exploring career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They created shelters out of newspapers, designed a toy for children ages 4 to 7 in a potential disaster relief shelter using common supplies, and built a bridge after being introduced to engineering principles on the West Point Bridge Builder website. To learn about local businesses and possible careers where science, technology, engineering and math are used, the students toured Tomahawk Log Cabin Homes and Daigle Brothers – an AISC certified steel fabricator and machine shop.

At another Gateway Academy held at Washington Middle School in Green Bay, Wis. , kids attending the week-long summer day camp learned to build cars, gliders and catapults of wood, paper and card board, and plastic robots they learned to program with computer software.  Gateway Academies allow students to develop skills essential for achievement in the classroom and success in college and at work. They also achieve significantly higher scores in reading, mathematics, and science. Graduates earn higher GPAs as college freshmen, and are 5 to 10 times more likely to study engineering and technology.

Some other SME Web sites of interest are a career Web site and one specifically for young people.

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