10/19/2016 12:00 am ET Updated Oct 19, 2016

Rallying Interest In STEAM Education Starts With A Message Of Inclusivity

As the daughter of the man who co-invented the world’s first adjustable shock absorber, I grew up with engineering as an ever-present part of my daily life. Going to amusement parks meant inspecting the hydraulics before riding the coasters. Chores included assembling shock absorber catalogues. And when my dad’s German and Russian business partners came over for dinner, I was always invited to the table.

Those gestures of inclusion gave me great confidence throughout my life. What’s more, I’ve come to learn that the messages we send and receive, consciously or not, are vitally important in shaping what we believe to be possible. Anything can be positive or negative depending on the way it’s communicated.

When it comes to STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art and math), I fear that too often the messages and examples are not coming from diverse role models. As a result, we exclude a large percentage of kids from becoming interested in these subjects at a young age, when it’s most important.

We are witnessing the impact of this roadblock across industries. It’s not just Silicon Valley tech giants competing for top talent in STEAM fields; it’s also automotive companies like Ford. Vehicles are no longer made solely on the assembly line; they run thanks in large part to lines of complex code. (The Ford F150 alone has 150 million lines of code!) At a time when a 3-year-old knows how to swipe on a phone or tablet and technical advancements are being made in every industry every day, it seems counterintuitive then that interest in STEAM activities is dwindling.

It’s a problem and one we must solve quickly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to grow to more than 9 million by 2022. That’s why it’s so incredibly important that we encourage the next generation -- particularly young girls -- to apply their interests and curiosities to STEAM studies.

I don’t think of myself as a role model for young girls, but I’m aware that being a woman in my position at Ford helps challenge stereotypes. It is an honor to be thought of as a role model in any way. In order to further change people’s perceptions, we need to boost the signal with more diversity, more inclusivity and more positive messages. We have to show up the way we want to be represented, and we have to represent what we want to attract.

Over the past five years, Ford has dedicated more than $63 million to education. We have a relationship with Girls Who Code and numerous programs and scholarships, covering everything from robotics to urban gridlock. This year, we’re excited to launch two new initiatives: a relationship with Destination Imagination and the Girls’ Fast Track Races, a track car race for Girl Scout Councils in Tropical Florida, Southeastern Michigan, Northeast Texas and Northern New Jersey.

If we can excite and if we can demonstrate impact -- explaining how knowledge and expertise in science, technology, engineering, art and math can affect everyday life, every discipline and every job -- we can break through and reach kids in a more meaningful way. To inspire the next generation of leaders, we just need to work together to deliver the right messages at the right times in their lives and instill confidence that anyone can engage successfully in STEAM. Due to the gifts I was given early on, it never occurred to me that I could not.

Marcy Klevorn is the Chief Information Officer of Ford Motor Company and a dedicated supporter of STEAM education. To learn more about the next generation of engineers, scientists, designers and more, click here: