The back-to-school season has us reflecting on the skills students will need to succeed in the workforce of the future. We know that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will be in high demand in our increasingly wired society, and to ensure our nation is competitive in a global economy that runs on innovation. There are activities your kids can do today that will help prepare them to take on exciting educational and career challenges.

As founders of the National Engineering Forum, we are focused on the E in STEM because engineering has been a wellspring of economic prosperity and security for our country since its establishment. Think back to our founding fathers – engineers and inventors such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin – to begin to understand how engineering and creativity came together to build America from the ground up.

Students in school today will help ensure our country has the capacity, capability, and competitiveness for 21 st century challenges.

Fortunately, there are abundant opportunities to awaken and inspire the budding engineer in your child. STEM programs are fun because they are hands-on, experiential and creative. Here are some of our favorite ways to get your child engaged:

  1. Robotics – Programs such as FIRST Robotics and 4-H Robotics teach students fundamentals of engineering by allowing them to create virtual or real robots.
  2. Innovation competitions The Conrad Foundation's Spirit of Innovation Challenge creates future entrepreneurs, combining invention with business as students develop commercially viable products and services.
  3. Fairs and festivals The USA Science & Engineering Festival, now planning its third national event, engages students with hands-on engineering activities and inspires them to pursue STEM fields.
  4. Mentoring The National Engineers Week Foundation gets professional engineers out in the community to celebrate the work they do. Participating companies and universities plan events and outreach to help mentor young, aspiring engineers.
  5. Electives – Don't shy away from the tougher courses at school. If your student has the opportunity to participate in advanced math or science classes, urge them on! The hard work will pay off, building their confidence and providing the satisfaction that comes with solving complex problems.

If you don't see these kinds of programs offered in your school or community, ask. You're sure to find like-minded parents and teachers willing to help get STEM activities started. Given the importance of engineering to our country, we'll all be grateful you did!

Jeff Wilcox is the vice president for Engineering at Lockheed Martin. Deborah Wince-Smith is the president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness. They are among the founding partners in the National Engineering Forum, which is seeking actionable solutions to the nation's engineering challenges of capacity, capability and competitiveness – the 3C's. Follow us on Twtitter at @NatlEngForum.

 

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