STEM students should broaden their horizonsBy Emma Royal | 08/29/2017 11:51pm
In the midst of a technological revolution, American education advocates are pushing more and more for increased participation in STEM activities and subjects among younger students. Non-profit organizations such as Girls Who Code, TechHive, and We Teach Science are hard at work in the battle to narrow representation gaps within the field in regards to race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Online services like Khan Academy make coding an easy and accessible skill, expanding the realm of career possibilities for anyone with internet access. The push towards technological aptitude is necessary and has been effective thus far, as evidenced by swells in technological advancement and engineering school admissions for women over the past 10 years. What cannot be sacrificed in favor of STEM training, however, is the ability to communicate and interact effectively with broad fields of study unrelated to the world of force diagrams and 3D models.
The age-old stereotype defines the engineering major as self-important and anti-social, neither of which are personality traits that function well in the workforce. Truthfully, not every engineer is an introverted math whiz, but many newly minted engineering students enter their respective universities anticipating four years of calculations in lecture halls so that they may graduate, move into cubicles with their calculators, and be left to their work with minimal interpersonal interaction. The modern STEM workplace is not the place for lone wolves. Innovation requires collaboration, and the sooner STEM students start building collaboration skills, the sooner we will reach new technological heights as a nation.
My advice for incoming STEM students comes from personal experience. In order to show the world the sheer brilliance of your work, you must first be able to form the most essential and basic of relationships with those around you. This ability comes from learning how to be vulnerable. Take theatre classes where you are forced to come in touch with emotions that make you uncomfortable. Take theatre classes where you walk around the room and fill the space with your stream of consciousness as you come into first contact with your character. You will laugh and cry and scream and talk too much about your own problems, but those problems do not belong to you anymore. They belong to the space and to your classmates. Allow yourself to become vulnerable in front of complete strangers and watch your professional relationships flourish.
Secondly, learn to write. STEM students should be able to give the exact breakdown of a machine and its functions by the time they graduate, but they should also be able to critique and analyze literature. Communication skills are built through literature courses because they require you to dig for information that is not in plain sight. You will become more insightful, more analytical, and more willing to think outside of the box. All are essential skills for engineers, but none of these skills will be taught to you as well as they are taught in the English classroom.
Finally, be open to new experiences. Most people do not excel at every course they take. STEM students should dive headfirst outside of their comfort zone, which is frightening, but will be far more beneficial in the long run. The world as a whole benefits from multifaceted people, and those who are academics in their most base form become double and triple threats when they are exposed to every sort of discipline. College, at its core, is about becoming the best version of yourself. For the sake of your resume and the world’s collective journey to a happier, healthier, and higher-functioning society, approach what is unfamiliar with an open mind and a willingness to improve.