Much attention, resources, education curriculum, and energy has been focused on helping develop interest and career pathways for students and adults directed to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
Some of the hottest areas are 3D Printing, video game and app development, code-a-thons, and student camps. Much of these efforts are driven by top-down workforce and educational approaches. Teachers, administrators, and workforce development leaders are constantly asked to create interest and experience in what business needs.
The problem with these approaches are that they are extrinsic. Many leaders are “selling” interest to youth, and today’s youth are rejecting traditional selling methods from adults. The rules of the game are changing. Intrinsic motivation is significantly stronger, but the challenge is how to create intrinsic interest in something that many s
taff do not understand, can’t see the ultimate vision, and are building skills for jobs that don’t exist currently. This is a high risk for the lives of students, and I’m seeing them turn more towards humanistic interests (read social media) than externally-driven approaches. Just as the baby boomers taught the Gen-Xers the downside of materialism and capitalism, Gen-Xers have taught Gen-Yers to strive to move away from complete control of completely planned social activities (any event/activity that requires a parent to drive a young person to). Have we created a generation yearning to reject what we’ve done Bowling Alone?
The problem with “selling” means that the other person has to be sold, and they have to buy something that they may or may not want. In the West, we have become masters at marketing unnecess
ary must-have products and services that add little value. As the Atlantic magazine asked in their September 2016 issue, “15 Years After 9/11, Is America Any Safer?” As Alfie Kohn points out in Punished by Rewards, “our basic strategy for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words:
Do this and you’ll get that.
Alfie shows that while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm. Alfie argues that our workplaces and classrooms will continue to decline until we begin to question our reliance on a theory of motivation derived from laboratory animals.
Surveying hundreds of research articles, Alfie shows that the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.
MOVING TO INTRINSIC MOTIVATION
Think about what all these motivators and inducements mean for our STEM initiatives. We should not be attending to creating human resource products (i.e., workers) to satisfy STEM-related employers, which is shifting the burden of responsibility for youth and adult interest, education, and training from business to the responsibility of the public sector. We should be attending to the fundamental question:
The Question We Need to Ask is:
What do youth really want?
Understanding intrinsic motivators is a primary path to career achievement, success, and a person realizing their potential.
BRINGING ALL THE PIECES TOGETHER: STEMPower.org
Working with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts team led by Jeff Turgeon, Executive Director of the Central Mass Workforce Investment Board, and Lisa Derby Oden, STEM Program Coordinator, Sandy DeMaioNewton, CEO of SHE Design, and Bill Bradbury of Monster.com, we created STEMPower.org – the Commonwealth’s online community connecting STEM leaders in education, higher education, and workforce development, as well as businesses, students, and job seekers. It was the first attempt at bringing the entire STEM talent supply chain stakeholders into a common forum for dialog from end-to-end to help produce better outcomes. Nearly a decade later, the site is still going strong making a difference in STEM advancement in the state.
STEM IMMERSION: BY YOUTH, FOR YOUTH
The question becomes how to create intrinsic motivation in students who are not interested in being sold. There are two ways, immerse them and inspire them. Immersion has to use a design that is salient to youth. When Bill Bradbury, Tracy Linville, and I worked to create My IE Career with Riverside Youth Services, we designed a solution by youth, for youth. We designed absolutely brilliant immersive experiences using approaches detailed in Frank Rose‘s book, The Art of Immersion, to create superversive experiences – the coming together of people to (often) clandestinely improve the state.
The result generated interest from the inside out and produced future materials that were salient to youth because they were designed in the voice of youth and by youth. Not top down.
THIS IS WHY I’M BROKE
The second approach to helping to create STEM pathways is to inspire them. Inspiration is an internal quality. Rather than teaching, it focuses on learning. The best teachers inspire their students to learn. But inspiration comes from within the individual, not from the teacher. Just as healing takes place within the person, not by the doctor. How to inspire STEMspiration? Here’s a link that will give you some good ideas. This is Why I’m Broke is a great site for innovative, exciting, and inspiring products that can, yes, lead to bankruptcy, but also inspire imagination, creativity, and opportunities. Below are some pictures to get you started. They should help get you started by inspiring ideas for you to inspire others. Check out these amazing STEMspirations and Do-It-Yourself products. My recommendation is that wherever possible, ask students and STEM potential participants, what would you do with this? How could this be used to do something really cool? How could you use these ideas to do something meaningful. And then, help them make it happen.
I’d love to hear your stories, successes and failures applying STEM curriculum and innovation, so feel free to share in the comments.
May we all reach our potential.