Students today are glued to their technology… and why shouldn’t they be? It’s available, and we all know we would have used it too if these luxuries had been available when we were in school. The irony is, that while today’s youth become increasingly inseparable from technology, their interest in studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is low, and dwindling, across the United States.
Telling students to study STEM now so that one day in the distant future they’ll get to play with toys for a living, is a tactic commonly used to encourage STEM participation. I don’t know about you, but delayed gratification was not my strong suit as a child. This is not to say that I didn’t love STEM at a young age. Personally, I was motivated and inspired by encouragement from my parents and teachers; however the prospect of a working in an exciting industry 20 years down the line probably wouldn’t have sparked my interest as a child, and it doesn’t seem to be working for kids today either.
AUVSI Foundation reverses this scenario by placing a cool toy or robot in the kids’ hands to experiment with in real time, making “playing with toys” a reality, rather than an intangible dream. They then guide the students toward their specific passion within the STEM industry, so they can continue doing what they love, and maybe even turn it into their degree or career one day.
When students associate their STEM education with something they are genuinely passionate about or good at doing, their tendency to stick with it is much higher. Daryl Davidson, Executive Director of the non-profit organization, believes that getting students engaged in robotics and helping them discover how things work, “takes a robot from being just a fun thing they can use, to being something they can build and reinvent their own version of.”
At Insitu, encouraging students to explore STEM fields not only benefits the company in the long run by creating the potential for a more robust workforce in the future, but also enables us to give back to the community we are lucky to call home. Insitu holds an annual robotics summer camp called Roboflight Academy, which is held in the Columbia River Gorge. Students not only get to build and fly unmanned aircraft at this camp, but also have the opportunity to engage with Insitu engineers and other students who want to learn more about robotics.
AUVSI Foundation offers a variety of programs and competitions to students ranging from kindergarten to college-age. The organization engages with international robotics programs, adding a rich cultural aspect to AUVSI Foundation’s competitions. Davidson says that one of his favorite aspects of the competitions is seeing the students’ shared passion for robotics serve as a bridge to cultural, geographical and lingual barriers. He explained that it’s unusually consistent across the events, that the kids would much rather collaborate than compete.
Tons of organizations in the STEM industry around the world are reaching out to help students discover the excitement in STEM through hands-on robotics programs. These programs can spark a lifelong passion for STEM that may never have been discovered by looking at problems on a piece of paper. Robotics programs like those offered by AUVSI Foundation and Insitu can provide students with opportunities for scholarships, internships, and even long-term career opportunities, however the key point here is that through a hands-on approach, the students’ journeys begin with a genuine passion for STEM – one of the most sustainable motivators out there, if you ask me.
There’s no denying that kids these days are growing up differently than we did; however, as adults that still love to geek-out over some robots, can we really claim that this is all bad? Whether you’re a parent wishing that your kid would just step away from the screen for ten minutes, or a student wishing that science, technology, engineering or math had an application to anything fun in your life, consider checking out some robotics programs. These offerings not only encourage students to pursue the areas they naturally excel at, but are also designed to let them learn by doing…and more importantly, by playing.