Over the weekend I heard a story about a 15-year-old who won the Intel Science Fair competition for developing a test to detect pancreatic cancer. The test is inexpensive and remarkably accurate. The fact that this boy beat researchers in creating this test is truly amazing. I was awed and inspired reading the story. His brother has also won an impressive award in science. It will be interesting to follow him while he attends college and beyond.
The story explains how even as a young child he was curious about the world around him and tested out how things worked. This type of exploration and curiosity is a trait of many of the best scientists and engineers I know. They want to know how things work and find ways to create better designs.
This is not to say that you have to be a genius to be an engineer. You need to be curious and interested in solving problems. This boy’s story should be inspiration as to what is possible. Also, don’t think that a child cannot be a scientist or engineer if they haven’t solved some big problem by age 15. I never competed in a science fair in middle or high school. Unfortunately, my school never participated in such events. However if a student does have an opportunity to be involved in science fairs or engineering competitions, they should take advantage of it. These events help get students interested in science and engineering. It helps them understand what kind of work these careers entail and whether or not it might be of interest to them.
The real major roadblock to pursuing a STEM field that I worry about is that if a student decides late in their high school years that they want to pursue such a field, they may not have taken the classes they will need. When I was in school the graduation requirements for science and math were very skimpy: 2 years of science, 3 years of math. Students need to complete 4 years of math and take high school chemistry and physics to really be prepared for a technical curriculum in college. Otherwise students may have to take remedial classes (hint: extra classes = extra time & cost) before they can enter an engineering program. If a student has even a remote interest in STEM, they should check out college entrance requirements while they are still a high school freshman so they can be sure to fulfill them. Otherwise they may lose opportunities down the road.