Mike Rowe Asks Who Took Skill Trades our of STEM Education?

Mike Rowe Says Engineering is the Original Dirty Job

In this video, Dan Hedges from ENGINEERING.com talks with Dirty Job’s Mike Rowe about the status of STEM education. Rowe expresses the need to bring “the dirt” back into STEM, with Skill Trades and farming, proposing a new Acronym STEMS.

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Transcript For This Video
Dan Hedges: Hello, I'm Dan Hedges with ENGINEERING.com, and I'm here talking to Mike Rowe.

Mike Rowe: That's true.

Dan Hedges: Host of Dirty Jobs. 

Mike Rowe: How are you?

Dan Hedges: Hi, I'm pretty good. How are you doing?

Mike Rowe: I'm fantastic. Thanks for coming by.

Dan Hedges: So we're here at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. We've got a lot of kids who are interested in, perhaps, looking at what they're going to be doing for their careers. Do you have some advice for them?

Mike Rowe: It's hard with me, but honestly... The reason I came here, is because I, frankly, I had a beef with STEM. I'm a huge fan of science, tech, engineering and math; I'm a huge fan of it. But where's the other S, for skill? Why isn't it STEMS? Why is there a silent S in this great acronym? Because when you look at Dirty Jobs, we did 300 of them. You saw the show, right?

Dan Hedges: Yes.

Mike Rowe: Can you think of one that didn't involve science, technology, engineering and math?

Dan Hedges: No, I can't. 

Mike Rowe: I mean, even a pig farmer; even an ostrich rancher; even, obviously, a bridge painter; but STEM is the original dirty job, because skill comes out of working with your hands and you can't stay clean doing that, but we arbitraged it. Again, we took the dirt out of STEM, we took the skill away from it, because what we wanted to do -- I say we, I don't really know who did this -- but want to get kids excited. We want to sell them an idea of a good job. So we say, "Meet this astronaut." I just talked to an astronaut. Very cool, right? And you talk to an astronaut and he goes to the moon and this is very aspirational; STEM career. Check the classifieds. Nobody's hiring for astronauts. I checked; there's just nothing there. But if you really talk to the astronaut--

Dan Hedges: In China, there might be.

Mike Rowe: [laughs] What's that?

Dan Hedges: In China, there might be.

Mike Rowe: In China, there might be? [laughs] That's a geographical challenge. But if you talk to the astronaut at length, typically you find an engineer, often anyway, and before that what were they doing? So many of them were welding, so many of them were in the skilled trades. So it's a path, and sometimes the path to the moon starts in a sewer, but they're connected. I'm still trying to figure out what to say to these kids here in about an hour or so, but I suspect it'll be something along those lines. The science, the technology, the engineering and the math that goes into a sewer system can't be any less important than what went into a lunar lander. I mean, they are two obviously different things, but to position one as more aspirational than the other is a mistake, especially if you find yourself flushing your toilet repeatedly and not getting the intended result. You don't need an astronaut there, you need a plumber.

Dan Hedges: Where do we get the idea that farming was a low-technology area? Farmers were the first to adopt satellite technology to do measurements, so when did we get the idea that they were for non-STEM people?

Mike Rowe: The same way we got the idea that all plumbers were 350 pounds with a giant butt-crack; it's the way we portray work. I talk to farmers every day, it's like one of their single biggest challenges. Hee Haw; I remember Hee Haw, Buck Owens and Roy Clark in the bib overalls and playing the banjo. So if you're playing word association and you sa