EDITORIAL: The significance of STEM

Mar. 07, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

In a time and economy where silver linings can be scarce, some local students are making the future look very bright.

At the Boys and Girls Club, young people have been dabbling in forensics, architecture and other fields based in STEM — science, technology, math and engineering. On a recent day at West Lee Middle School, local kids were experimenting with electricity, fire and chemicals under the watchful eyes of N.C. State Chemistry professors Reza Ghiladi and Jeremiah Feducia. The pair will be returning for several visits thanks to a Lee County Schools science grant.

By themselves, these activities are laudable because young people are having fun while learning — a win-win outcome where you can get it. And as part of a bigger picture, these kinds of endeavors may be the key to our long-term prosperity.

Central Carolina Community College leaders have said it, local officials have repeated it, and the president aptly chose the Raleigh area recently to drive the point home: high-tech and high-skill manufacturing jobs are the future.

And our county's largest, most cutting-edge employers have long been echoing the same refrain, too — the problem is not necessarily a lack of jobs; it's a lack of qualified individuals to fill their open positions. Our community has invested in a solution with initiatives like the Lee County Innovation Center, where hundreds of workers in Central Carolina and beyond have developed or brushed up their skills.

But a workforce that can meet the demands of the 21st century isn't created at CCCC or in our valuable adult programs. The groundwork is laid much sooner — in our K-12 classrooms and other places where our young people are educated. For that reason, we applaud programs like Central Carolina Works, which puts advisors in our local high schools with the goal of giving students a head start on their careers or college, and the Caterpillar Apprenticeship in Welding program, a joint effort with CCCC to train high school students for the modern workforce.

The challenge is to ignite an interest in STEM as early as possible and put youth on a path to success long before they are old enough to seek jobs.

And “jobs” is the buzzword from Capitol Hill to Sanford City Hall — not just quantity, but quality. When unemployment among young people is at a reported 14 percent nationwide, and a realistic figure for everyone without gainful employment is 13 percent, it's safe to say we're facing a crisis — and education is the primary cure.

Which is why a science-themed visit to a local middle school, and kids on computers at the Boys and Girls Club — should bring a smile to all of our faces. Because their curiosity today will power our economy — and our country —tomorrow.