Beyond the Book: Nurturing a Love of STEM Outside the Classroom

09/28/2016 12:31 pm ET
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We’re all born learners with a natural curiosity to figure out how the world works. I see this every day with the millions of kids who come to Boy Scouts of America with a craving for adventure.

So it comes to no surprise to me that a new study by the Amgen Foundation found that more than 80 percent of U.S. high school students are interested in science – a subject that undoubtedly unleashes one’s curiosity.

What does come as a surprise is that despite job opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) increasing, there’s only one qualified individual for every two open STEM jobs. I’m no STEM professional, but the math doesn’t add up. If we have a majority of youth interested in STEM and understand its value, what’s happening between high school and college graduation that pull them away from a career in STEM?

The same study also found that teenagers want more when it comes to STEM education. They want to see STEM subjects come to life in real, hands-on experiences.

That makes perfect sense to me. In fact, it’s why we launched STEM Scouts, an innovative program that allows young people to conduct experiments that could lead to new inventions and technologies, and develop ideas that can change lives. It gives them an out-of-the-classroom environment to nurture their interest in STEM.

And the program is in-demand. Just this past spring, membership grew by 30 percent, a clear sign that STEM Scouts is meeting a need for families and young people. It’s why we’re expanding the program this fall.

The program has helped boys and girls see how the concepts they learn in textbooks can come to life in a fun, engaging way. They get to work closely with STEM professionals to gain a better idea of STEM careers; something teenagers in the study said would be helpful. They even have the opportunity to publish their work in a professional peer-reviewed journal, all increasing their chances for college scholarships.

College scholarships, though, will only be helpful if students are academically prepared for college-level STEM classes. And according to ACT, only a quarter of high school seniors are ready for these courses. It underscores the need for us to look beyond the textbook to help young people understand STEM concepts before they get to college.

In our opinion, this can start well before high school. We have many adolescents in the STEM Scouts program who love science and math. Before STEM Scouts, their parents often found them exploring these subjects using their imaginations, a clear sign they needed to develop their kids’ interest.

For example, parents of a 12-year-old named Eli did what they could to nurture his love of weather. They gave him access to weather websites and apps to give him opportunities to learn. Then they discovered STEM Scouts. His parents saw how the application-based approach gave Eli the opportunity to learn about STEM in a way that was different than what he was getting in the classroom or online after school. And, best of all, Eli loved STEM Scouts.

Not only did his passion for science grow, but the program also helped him see how science and technology intertwines with math, a subject with which he previously struggled. Thanks to STEM Scouts, Eli’s understanding of math improved and so did his scores in the classroom.

Our hope is that STEM Scouts is part of the solution to drive more young people to pursue a career in STEM. We also want to make a difference in shaping their character and leadership skills so that they’re not only prepared for STEM subjects, but also ready for STEM leadership.

It’s just one way we’re working to bring fresh, relevant programs to today’s youth that address their changing interests and needs. As the nation’s leading youth-serving organization, we simply feel it’s our responsibility.