Opportunities, rewards of STEM education

Imagine being a college student and spending a summer in sunny Carlsbad. That’s pretty cool right there.

But what if you got to live, work and play alongside other students, just as bright as you, collected from universities across the United States? And participate in developing some of the most advanced communication and security technology? Not with busywork, but by working as part of a team on real projects that become part of the most innovative communication systems and services in the world. To top it off, you’d get paid.

Each summer at ViaSat, we welcome a new group of smart university students to our team internship program who get to do just that. That scenario is a possibility for those who pursue an education in STEM subjects — a reward for applying themselves to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

There is amazing opportunity in the accelerating pace of change in the technology we all use for computing and communicating every day. With today’s focus on finding a way to rebuild a strong middle class that can lift all of us to a better standard of living, it quickly becomes clear that STEM education is the foundation.

Just focusing on the information and communication industry that ViaSat is a part of, 72,000 San Diego-area people work in the sector, earning an average annual wage of $94,000, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Council.

That’s part of the reason we’re on a mission to encourage STEM education among our San Diego-area students. We want to communicate the fun and satisfaction that lies beyond the hard work of challenging their minds with technical subjects. They’re showing us that the effort pays off.

By opening our doors to the San Diego Science Olympiad, we’ve seen the number of participating middle school students grow every year. By providing a central location for their activities and dozens of coaches to mentor these kids, we’ve made it much easier for all three Carlsbad middle schools to participate. This year we welcomed over 130 students each week onto our campus during five months of Science Olympiad preparation.

We should also be encouraging participation in the high-tech economy among a broader spectrum of students, not only those with an aptitude for mathematics or technology. In fact our founders have extended the familiar acronym from STEM to STEAM, adding an ‘A’ for Arts to the mix.

To research and foster this link between rational and creative thinking, San Diego has a tremendous asset in the new Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Imagination at UC San Diego.

As Founding Partner, we’re looking forward to supporting the center in a wide range of disciplines and collaborations across communities and continents, that will help explore the nature of imagination and cultivate its ability to help shape the future of society.

We’ve all seen our share of tech gadgets that frustrate the humans who try to use them. With the addition of the arts and cognitive sciences to the equation, we can pull students with more diverse interests into the industry and help better integrate technology into how we work and interact.

In fact, a new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program has identified a “Hidden STEM Economy,” finding that a large portion of STEM jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree in engineering or computer science. Maybe your son or daughter is a better fit for the many skills and well-paid roles needed beyond crunching numbers or writing code.

Just south of Los Angeles International Airport is the headquarters of SpaceX. Near the entrance, hanging high in the company’s cavernous, three-story, 550,000-square-foot factory, is one of the first Dragon spaceships that has made the trip to the International Space Station and back. It’s a tangible billboard for the variety of opportunities available to curious, smart young people today.

Everywhere in the SpaceX factory, young men and women hard at work building the rockets and spacecraft that are driving a new space race. Rocket engines are built from scratch. Giant rocket propellant tanks are rolled, shaped and assembled. Huge rolls of composite material are layered up to form spacecraft housings and fairings. Miles of wires and pipes are routed and connected.

While engineers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees create the designs on paper, it takes crafts men and women to bring to life what the engineers have imagined.

STEM education is a clear path to reversing the polls that show young people are pessimistic about their chances to meet or exceed the previous generation’s prosperity and opportunity. We encourage other companies to join us in promoting the benefits of technical education and building a brighter future for students with a wide range of talents and interests.

See is community relations manager for ViaSat, Inc., based in Carlsbad.

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