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Looking at the Future of STEM: A Q&A with CU-ICAR Automotive Engineering Instructor Dee Kivett

March 16, 2015

With 30-plus institutions of higher learning, programs like iMAGINE Upstate and resources such as the NEXT High School, Upstate South Carolina continues to serve as a center for the advancement of STEM education.

Today on the blog, we get a few minutes with Dee Kivett, Automotive Engineering Instructor at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and CEO of NextGen Supply Chain Integrators, to discuss the future of STEM education.


What does the future of STEM education look like? What should it look like?

“Education as a whole will become more hands-on and project-based, integrating traditional liberal arts thinking into problem solving exercises that emphasize technology. I personally do not see America losing focus on the classics as we look for ways to improve our STEM education techniques, but rather instead we will build on it as a strength. What makes America unique is our ability to INNOVATE. Kids in successful education programs will learn how to solve problems and have the opportunity to use technology solutions to do so.  They will also be able to market and communicate their innovations through strong foundations in traditional liberal arts studies including art, English, humanities, and public speaking.”

“New education programs like NEXT High School in Greenville, S.C. are adopting this project-based learning philosophy. At CU-ICAR, every class we teach has a hands-on project component.  In my class at CU-ICAR, project teams learn the foundations of project management through a new product development project.  By the end of the course, not only have they realized their new idea from concept through prototype validation, they have about 90% of their patent application complete! This technique not only promotes an integrated approach to different disciplines, but it also simply makes learning more interesting and fun for students!”

What are the current challenges facing STEM education centers?

“Money is the obvious easy answer. Many hands-on projects and technology-based learning opportunities are expensive. The community has done a great job of helping offset this challenge through shared learning resources like that of the Roper Mountain Science Center. Also, many organizations and companies are beginning to volunteer their time and resources to provide project mentorship in the schools and bring those resources to the students. “

“Additionally, teachers need opportunities for continuing education. We need to provide them affordable learning opportunities so they can stay on top of the latest technologies as well. One way to also help offset this is to remove expectations that one teacher should be an expert in every subject, especially in the lower grades. Having science specialists who visit multiple classrooms is one economical way to accomplish this. In the upper grades, giving students the opportunity to attend STEM-focus centers where equipment may be shared with other schools is a great way to accomplish the goal of optimizing the resources available.”

How can manufacturing/businesses become more involved in STEM education?

“Businesses can contribute money, time for their employees to serve as volunteers, equipment, and learning opportunities for teachers. Businesses must also acknowledge the importance of skilled trades workers with fair and equitable pay for the contribution they make to the organization, making STEM-related careers more appealing.”

What skills must the modern labor force have? Why?

“Problem solving, innovation, self-motivation, and personal responsibility are all key to success today just as they have been from the beginning of time. Today, however, people require higher levels of literacy and understanding of a diversity of cultures in order to interact with an increasingly global workforce. Computer and financial literacy are a basic requirement today, whereas they may have been optional in the past. The labor force as a whole needs more people who know how to do things.  We need those who are not afraid to build things with their hands, the ones who do not sit and wait for someone to tell them step by step how to do a task but instead figure it out for themselves.”

What can manufacturers and educational centers do to make students interested in manufacturing?

“To me, this is a question better presented to society as a whole. In recent decades, the ‘skilled trades’ job has somehow slipped down the societal perception ranking to somehow be seen as less desirable than a four-year university degree. Consequently, parents all encourage their students to go to the four year university. For many students, they do this without any idea of what they ultimately want to do in life. They get degrees that are empty of any real applicable skills or otherwise too generic to prepare them for real-working experiences, and leave them ultimately unable to find work. Who would have imagined a day that students graduating with master’s degrees would have to depend on working the elevator at a tourist resort as their only job opportunity?“

“With an overpopulation of students with advanced degrees but no real-work experience, we have a tremendous shortage of skilled trade workers. Without machinists, welders, electricians and the like, we cannot have a thriving manufacturing industry. Society as a whole will need to shift its perception of “success” for our young people before this tide will turn. We need to praise, promote, and reward those who are graduating directly into the workforce with valuable technical skills and elevate the social perception of those jobs before students will start becoming drawn to those fields.”

For more information on education in Upstate South Carolina, visit https://www.upstatescalliance.com/about-upstate/information-downloads#wor….  

Read more about STEM initiatives in the region on the blog at https://www.upstatescalliance.com/blog-tags/stem. 

TOPICS: Upstate Thoughts, News You Can Use, Colleges & Universities