STEM Education: From the Earth to Space
The water sector has many challenges. One of particular interest to me is the lack of diversity in the sector and its root causes.
I believe a lack of investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) educational programs to increase diversity in the sector is limiting our ability to solve “wicked water problems” at the pace needed in view of climate change and increasing demand for water.
The statistics are not encouraging.
In general, women make up only 28% of the workforce in STEM-related industries and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.
The question is how do we address this challenge in the water sector? I believe the solution, in part, is through increased investment in STEM education and outreach to those under-represented groups. We also need to make STEM education interesting, engaging and an attractive choice for students and professionals.
The latest episode of The Stream illustrates what can be done by organizations such as Project WET and individuals such as Ricky Arnold, a NASA astronaut. In this episode, John Etgen, the CEO of the Project WET Foundation, and Ricky Arnold, also director of STEM engagement at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, join Tom Freyberg and I to talk about how they found a connection to water growing up in the Chesapeake Bay. Find out about the exceptional work being done by the Project WET team to advance water education in over 100 countries, including work with the Singapore Government. Hear about Ricky's time on the International Space Station and why water recycling is critical in space. Plus, we talk about the huge challenge known as the “silver tsunami” facing the water sector: an increasing number of skilled engineers are on the verge of retiring, leaving a workforce gap. We also discuss why there is an urgent role for education to spark careers in STEM-related industries.
Full disclosure: I am on the Board of Project WET and very proud of our commitment to diversity. I encourage you to learn about the work of the organization and meet the team.