Evolving STEM Education for an Electronics Industry Workforce
By Jessica Gomez, SEMI.org
With one of the oldest and largest public education systems in the developed world, how well does the US public education system serve the global electronics industry?
Public education in the US has had time on its side. In 1635 the Boston Latin School became the first public school in the US. Boston Latin was originally a boys-only secondary school that taught Greek, Latin and the humanities. It wasn’t until 1918, however, that the US government required all children to obtain at least an elementary-school education – available to them through free public schools. As public education increasingly served the masses rather than just the elite, a balance of humanities, mathematics and science began to replace the classics.
While free public education in the US got a comparatively early start, most American students score lower in science and math than students in many other developed nations. According to a 2017 Pew Research Study, 15-year-old American students ranked 24th in the world in international standardized age-group science testing and 38th in the world in standardized mathematics testing. While test scores are just one measure of proficiency, do they in some way reflect a lack of motivation to study science and math because of students’ unfamiliarity with STEM careers?
Source: Pew Research. See article.
Make STEM Relevant
If we want the US to remain a leader in the global electronics industry, we need to pay attention to the disconnects between academics and workforce development. We must help show students at an early age that STEM careers can be exciting, creative and fulfilling, and that math and science are essential to STEM.
Whether you work for a large publicly traded electronics manufacturer, an equipment or materials supplier, a foundry or a startup, you can take action to support student engagement in STEM. Here are a few ways to get involved:
Participate in Community Programs
One fun way to inspire budding technologists is to sponsor one of the FIRST programs for students. These age-segmented competitive programs range from FIRST LEGO League, Jr. Challenge for six-ten year-olds to FIRST Robotics Challenges for high school and college students, giving you the opportunity to sponsor a team or even to coach.
Our company sponsors Team TNT, a Southern Oregon-based team that placed among the world’s top high school robotics teams at the spring 2018 world championships. We also brought two members of Team TNT to SEMICON West 2018, where they attended SEMI’s three-day High Tech U and presented their .Margaux Quady (L) and Matthew Mills (R), Team TNT members, presented at SEMI’s Smart Workforce Pavilion at SEMICON West (Rogue Valley Microdevices)
Concerned about the dearth of girls interested in STEM — and the small numbers of women in engineering careers? Look for your local equivalent of the Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering, and Math (AWSEM) Symposium, a day-long program for middle school girls. One of our engineers, Jennifer Devin, gave a hands-on workshop on deconstructing smartphones to showcase the silicon chips inside them. If you cannot find something like AWSEM, check out national programs such as the Society for Women Engineers (SWE)’s program for girls ages 13-18 as well as Girl Powered.
Partner with Local Schools
You would be surprised at the opportunities to present what you do in the classrooms of school-age children. Take after Allyson Hartzell, managing engineer at Veryst Engineering in Needham, MA. Allyson speaks with students in her local elementary schools of Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts because she thinks that we must reach younger children to get them excited about STEM learning. “Waiting until middle school or high school to help students visualize the real-world appeal of STEM careers is just too late,” said Hartzell. “I’ve had amazing experiences working with local elementary-school students. Students become engaged when you show them real-world examples such as electron micrographs of MEMS.”
Many middle schools and high schools also look to their communities to provide tutors in STEM subjects. Check with the community liaison at your local school to get started.
Engage in Internship Programs
Involvement doesn’t stop in the K-12 grades. Seek out a local university’s internship program and hire some interns in that program to work at your company. The interns will gain valuable applied experience in your environment, and you might find young engineers who would love to join your company after they graduate. Oregon’s MECOP, an engineering-specific internship program founded on close industry-university collaboration, has been amazing for our recruitment. Some of our finest engineers were once in the MECOP program, including our engineering manager.
Anything you do to get involved in inspiring coming generations of students to explore STEM — no matter how small your action — will make a positive difference in helping US students become better prepared to enter a technology-focused workforce. Through collaboration and creativity, we can help US companies keep the global electronics industry moving toward greater innovation.
Jessica Gomez, CEO and co-founder of Rogue Valley Microdevices, entered the semiconductor manufacturing field in 1998 at Standard Microsystems Corporation of Hauppauge, New York where she acquired valuable knowledge in both semiconductor processing and production management. Jessica also held positions at Integrated Micromachines and Xponent Photonics prior to co-founding Rogue Valley Microdevices in 2003.
As head of a technology company, Jessica recognizes the criticality of workforce development – and has become an advocate of STEM education. Rogue Valley Microdevices supports STEM initiatives for middle-school girls, a competitive robotics team for high school students, and a college internship program specifically for engineers.
Expanding her energies beyond the company she co-founded, Jessica is also applying her passion for change to politics. She is currently campaigning for the Oregon State Senate.