THE BLOG

STEM Learning STEMs from Transitions

02/16/2015 10:13 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

It's Friday as I write and brutally cold out there. As usual, I had so many, too many meetings and my brain is on overload trying to connect the dots of all the learning.

This is what I wanted...

After a 20 year career running an amazing charity that teaches entrepreneurship to youth, the whole objective was to do something entrepreneurial and to NOT know all the answers. To lose a bit of the expert-itis I had so well honed and to soak in a new field like a sponge. To learn. To be curious. Again.

I knew that I didn't know what I didn't know... and I frankly didn't know where karma would take me in my transition.

"Julie, if you are invited on a rocket ship, you don't ask where your seat is," said my friend at Middleland Capital when I asked him to help me vet a new opportunity a few years ago.

I had written about a tech start up I was building that we closed down a little too early. The start-up rollercoaster and what a ride it was. Sometimes in our careers we are on a rollercoaster, and the train derails and you land on another ride, another journey, sometimes another park altogether.

"Where do I go
Follow my heartbeat
Where do I go
Follow my hand
Where will they lead me
And will I ever
Discover why I live and die"
from the Broadway soundtrack of Hair fills my ears on my iPhone 4 as I deliberate my next big professional move. I know I need to choose the right culture, choose learning, choose compelling leadership, choose my direction carefully.

"Follow the wind song
Follow the thunder
Follow the neon in young lovers' eyes
Down to the gutter
Up to the glitter
Into the city
Where the truth lies,"

Where Do I Go?

The field I chose, or it chose me was STEM workforce. STEM management consulting

That's where my train squarely landed two years ago.

I joined the company to work with a great female CEO I admire a lot, and as karma would have it, I moved back into my original office space that she took over when the company Diversified Search, LLC and STEMconnector expanded. We had moved out months earlier.

Then as karma would continue to have it, the company broke down a wall to expand again, and I was moved back into my old executive office that I had for 10 years. The same office! The same view! Don't ask me to explain this and how it happened because I really, really can't.

What I can explain now is this. I am learning a ton and STEM is a fascinating field that requires attention and action!

I will share here five key learnings:

1] Jobs in America are going to require some fundamental Science, Technology, Math and Engineering skills. Boys are more likely to choose the "T" and the "E" (no pun intended) and girls are more likely to chose the "S." Girls are more likely to drop out which is a BIG issue for America's competitiveness, and both boys and girls need role models and mentors and VERY few have them. They also need experiential learning opportunities. They need to 'tinker' and 'try' not just be 'told.'

2] Corporations and business are a linchpin of the solution. Bottom line, they hire and produce. Companies are VERY much identifying themselves as technology companies more and more. Think about it. They need to. Your life, my life is changing. People walk into a Radio Shack or a similar store, look around. Look on their phone and order on Amazon the thing that they want with two day delivery and often a reduced price. We don't watch mainstream TV much anymore, we watch Netflix and many will call the iPhone the 'remote control' of our lives. We connect globally with that leader we would have flown 20 hours to meet... on Linkedin. There is much disruptive technology out there and companies need to innovate and embrace innovation.

3] They also need to get the talent right. Companies are really hands-on in building their STEM strategies and they tend to lack access to a skilled pipeline of talent especially in the 'T' and the 'E.' They hire many from overseas to get the skills. They need more resumes from women and minorities and they are understanding that STEM needs a strategy. One that integrates typical HR functions, D & I, Corporate Communications, CSR and more. This is a great conversation we can continue that our team focuses on every day. Many enlightened companies realize they need to approach STEM not just in terms of college graduates, but look at it in terms of a K-J approach (kindergarten through jobs). They know kids are deciding what they DON'T want to do professionally by middle school. I love listening and learning from America's top corporations having spent two decades learning from America's great entrepreneurs.

4] BUT entrepreneurs need a STEM workforce too! In fact, I would argue that entrepreneurs are an innovation economy, a E-STEM workforce and wrote about this here. One of my old business partners shared with me that at a Microsoft conference for SMBs, the predominate need shared of these companies with under 250 employees is TALENT. They need the computer scientists, the innovators just as much as corporate America does. Also companies are now buying up entrepreneurial start-up ventures to integrate the innovation and the... talent. Clearly there is a big war to recruit, retain, engage creative, smart, talent and more and more businesses are teaming up with education institutions to work on this leaky pipeline.

So the 5th thing I have learned is to go back to the basics. To pick up the phone, to sit across from one another too. Because we are humans and we use technology to be efficient and to plow 7 years of work into one year. But we also need to listen in a new way to each other.

So "Where Do I Go?"

The truth is we are all on rocketships, rollercoasters and speed trains. But listening to others to connect the dots and collaborate is what is needed. As as a collective WE do more when we plan together, we learn together, we teach each other, we move the needle together in action.
We are better, when we go at the STEM challenge together.

Julie Kantor is Chief Partnership Officer of STEMconnector & Million Women Mentors a subsidiary of Diversified Search, LLC She lives in Bethesda Maryland with her husband, middle school daughter and Havanese puppy, Naomi.