May 2015
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: Stem, Pathways to New Opportunities

Alabama students engaged in soap exhibit at the Sci-Quest Center in Huntsville.  

Imagine a world without science, technology, mathematics or engineering. Without science, man would not have walked on the moon. Without technology, we would not have computers, the Internet or even smartphones. Without mathematics, we would not have measurements or time. And without engineering, we would not be able to apply science, math or technology to create or to design new inventions. That’s why programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, better known as STEM, are so critical for youth today and to the future of our world.

Each year Alabama Extension works with educators and educational school systems to introduce youth to science, technology, mathematics and engineering disciplines through STEM programs such as "Ready? Get SET to Explore Forensics" offered through the Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs unit on the campus of the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. Although junior and senior high school students learn the art of forensic science that is used to collect and to examine data in a court of law, "Ready? Get SET to Explore Forensics" is so much more. Students not only have a chance to visit sites such as Huntsville’s Sci-Quest Center, an interactive science center, but local colleges and universities to learn about STEM courses of study, and new and emerging careers. In addition, they listen to college students – not much older than themselves – talk about STEM research projects, and engage in discussions with educators and professionals working in STEM careers.

After attending STEM Day activities at AAMU students remarked,

"Food and agriculture are more interesting than I thought."

"I learned that jobs in STEM-related areas are increasing."

"I learned that old systems can be used to create something new and interesting."

Isn’t that what learning is all about?

We currently live in a fast-paced society driven by STEM innovation including food and bioscience, engineering, computer and information technology, as well as careers in health, and environmental and social sciences. America’s congressional leadership has even recognized STEM programs as vital to the nation’s economy and its competitiveness in a global market. They worry, however, about a possible shortage of STEM workers to meet the growing demand of STEM jobs or whether there are enough students pursuing STEM education and occupations. As a result, more funding is being appropriated for STEM instruction, increasing and sustaining youth and public involvement in STEM activities, and ensuring undergraduate students are exposed to even greater STEM experiences.

Alabama Extension educators also work to enhance programs such as "Ready? Get SET to Explore Forensics" so critical to youth in Alabama. Besides, where would we be without STEM advances in industries such as agriculture that paved the way for George Washington Carver to discover the many uses of the peanut at Tuskegee Institute to AAMU scientists discovering ways to eliminate peanut allergens in food today?

Perhaps we now have a greater understanding as to why science, technology, mathematics and engineering are vital to our existence just as youth are vital to our future. Imagine how we could change the world by making STEM disciplines accessible to every child in Alabama and across our great nation. Young people deserve to discover pathways to new opportunities through STEM education. They deserve to be equipped with the skills they need to compete in a global job market.

Wendi Williams is the Extension Communications Specialist at AAMU.