Natural disasters. Global warming. Cancer. World hunger.
Homeland security. Chances are, if a teacher asked you to list
some of the biggest problems facing the world today, one or more of these issues would
quickly come to mind. Finding solutions isn't easy, but it can be rewarding.
Around the world, innovators are constantly chipping away at all of these
problems and making great strides.
Ocean sensors and global positioning systems can help people escape killer tsunamis.
New fuel formulas can make cars cheaper to operate while providing us with
cleaner air. Gene therapy may someday terminate cancer. New hybrid
grains will feed more people. Better personal identification devices can make
American borders more secure.
The world is filled with problems -- and opportunities. There's plenty of
work to be done for well-trained entrepreneurs. And that same spirit of
innovation can also help create better tasting pizza and smaller cell phones, new ways
to shop for the latest fashions and more realistic video games.
What sparks innovation
That's a four-part answer: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Most new developments that make the world a better place in which to live involve one
or more of these fields. Sometimes they involve all four! When
you listen to a portable music player, consider the expertise that went into the device.
Electronic engineers devised inner workings that are small enough to
comfortably carry. Employees with high-tech skills and tools tested the
products to make sure they are safe and reliable. Materials engineers
formulated cases that are tough and picked color pigments that are appealing to the
consumer. Mathematicians created financial projections that told the
company what young people want in a music player and how much they would be willing
to pay for it.
Innovation benefits America
Some of the fastest-growing jobs in America, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology,
need workers who know a lot about science, technology, engineering and math.
New products not only make our country a technology front-runner but also ensure that
it's a top contender in a tough, competitive global economy. Creating new
and better products and solving some of today's most perplexing problems have a healthy
ripple effect that you can feel on a personal level. Innovation creates
good-paying jobs that are in high demand. Not only that, all of these fields
have a built-in feature that makes them fascinating and rewarding: Science and
technology are constantly changing, so the work is never dull. Let's take a
closer look at STEM.
Science promotes understanding
Science helps us understand and make use of phenomena that happen in the physical world,
from astronomy to zoology. In the study of cancer, for example, cell
biologists map out how good cells go bad. Some of the best new developments
occur when experts in different specialties team up. You've got entomologists
who know everything about mosquitoes working with chemists to develop more effective
bug repellents. Or you have astronomers working with geophysicists to
map the surface of Mars. Botanists can tell you why a rose smells so good,
and a meteorologist can tell you if it's going to rain on Tuesday. Some
scientists say they were drawn to their particular field through interests or hobbies
they had when they were younger. What are some of the things about the
natural world that fascinate you? Can you see yourself becoming an expert in any
of them? Have you taken a variety of science courses in high school?
Technology's useful tools
Technology harnesses physical and mental capabilities to achieve a particular end.
It can be as simple as making a hammer or as complex as developing artificial
intelligence. In business, computer programmers have devised secure ways for
customers to make online purchases. You have people who are savvy with
sound effects teaming up with those who have mastered visual effects to make movies
like King Kong. A computer forensics expert can track down who
hacked into a sensitive database, and a graphic artist can design an eye-popping
Web page that can help launch a new business. Sometimes people who enjoy
using a certain technology decide to make it their career. What are some
of your favorite gadgets? Can you picture yourself inventing something
new and better? Have you taken any technology education classes in high school?
In a nutshell, engineering is using the knowledge of science, technology and math
to develop a useful new object or process. Chemical engineers can devise
ways to decrease some of the adverse side effects of heart medication. Civil
engineers are working with environmental engineers to protect the city of New Orleans
from the next major hurricane. Automotive engineers are working with safety
engineers to design cars that reduce the injuries people sustain in accidents.
A traffic engineer can plan how to prevent traffic jams, and a mechanical engineer can
design a robot. People who are good at figuring things out and fixing
things tend to make good engineers. Can you think of something that you fixed
that you're proud of? Can you picture yourself getting paid to make them work?
Have you participated in any pre-engineering programs while in high school?
Math makes sense
Math is all about calculating, using logic and measuring. It also involves
the study of shapes and the motions of physical objects. A mathematician can
determine the trajectory of a long-range missile. A statistician can predict
how severely a drought will affect the local economy. Some math majors work
in the textile industry creating equations for mixing coloring dyes. Actuaries
help businesses calculate the risks and benefits of decisions such as introducing new
products or acquiring new divisions. By their very nature, mathematicians
are excellent problem-solvers, and their services are needed.
Did you consider all your math options in high school?
Putting it all together
Whenever you use something that makes your life easier or more fun, think of all
the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians that made it happen.
And if you feel a strong connection to a hobby, an interest or a gadget,
why not climb into the driver's seat and make it even better?
America needs you to be an innovator! Seek your career options in STEM