Four years after the first transistors were commercially available, a young man named Earl Bakken invented the first battery operated transistorized pacemaker in a Minnesota garage. Earl’s innovative technology eventually led to the growth of Minnesota behemoth Medtronic, Inc. Similar stories have been told about the origins of companies such as Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Google — all businesses that essentially started in the garage, albeit outside Minnesota.
Minnesota has a strong history in the computer systems industry as a result of companies such as IBM, Control Data, Unisys, and Cray. Sadly, our ‘High Tech’ leadership has eroded.
Where are the new tech businesses being started today?
We have progressed since the 1950s; many new global technology startups today are in software applications and the computers that are used to write the software have moved from the garage to the basement, bedroom — or wherever there’s a lap turned table.
According to the 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 510,000 employed scientists, 770,000 employed technicians, 1,600,000 employed engineers, and 3,390,000 employed in computer science across the United States . I have spoken with representatives from several universities that teach computer science and they relate that many recent graduates with degrees in computer science have found positions before college graduation, even in this economic recession. Anecdotally, I have also heard from various Twin Cities corporations that their greatest need is qualified applicants in computer science. Furthermore, CNN Money recently declared Software Architect as the #1 job in America for 2011.
Computers are used in (most) Minnesota high schools, but it is mainly the basic office suite (PowerPoint, Excel, Word, etc.) that’s taught — unless that is, a student is lucky enough to attend a school with an Advanced Placement Computer Science course. Currently 7% (34 out of 498) Minnesota high schools offer AP Computer Science, and only 5 offer AP Computer Science A/B.
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) did a study throughout 2009 and 2010 of computer science K-12 standards in each of the fifty states and released the results this past fall:
Minnesota scored 9. In contrast, Massachusetts, Florida, Idaho and Louisiana received a perfect score of 100 (Oregon, California, Ohio, Nevada, Georgia, Iowa and Indiana were all over 90).
The work environment has changed considerably over the past twenty years, but Minnesota’s educational system has not kept up technologically with the business world. 21st Century skills require more than basic computer literacy and we do not currently have any standards for computer science education for our K-12 students. Technology is relevant in our student’s lives and it has everything to do with the future of our economy and quality of life that we’ve come to appreciate.
Let us fix this problem by teaching our youth the power of technology and software applications (and not just for the fun and games of using devices as passive consumers). To get more students interested in technology, we should have them creating their own websites, making their own mobile phone applications, developing their own educational video games, or making their screenplay into a film, and creating means to deeply engage them in an interactive way of enabling technology.
What can we do to change our current system?
- Accept: What’s at stake is real.
- Vote: What is the position of your representative or senator in supporting technology in our schools? Where are their priorities?
- Volunteer: Schools need volunteers for science fairs, parent organizations, and career days, amongst other things. Schools also need people with entrepreneurial experience to share, inspire and mentor.
- Adopt: Many businesses have can adopt or support a school as a commitment to their community. Employees have been involved in reading and math literacy and have spoken to classrooms about the importance of education in their careers. There are even Minnesota companies that have offered professional development opportunities on software training to the teachers in the school they have adopted.
- Donate: The GetSTEMMN website is a “Craig’s List” of partnership opportunities between schools and companies. Companies can “offer” equipment, speakers or materials that they no longer need. Schools can “ask” for technology, speakers on specific topics or classroom materials.
- Learn: Change the Equation is a great resource to learn more about STEM Education or you can follow STEMAhead on Twitter.
As Minnesota competes in our now global economy, what educational skills are required for our students to succeed?
Implementing new standards for computer science will require professional assistance for our educators and willingness for the public to support our schools to be technologically proficient.
As we look forward to the new businesses of the future and preparing a workforce for the economy of tomorrow, it is critical that we should be teaching these 21st century skills to our students. Our innovative Minnesota start-ups and corporations of tomorrow could very well be started by a student doing their computer science homework on their laptop today.
The most considerate thing we can do for our children is to act now.
Cheryl Moeller is an electrical engineer who’s passionate about STEM Education. She has taught electronic projects at University of St. Thomas STEPS camp for girls and is a former science educator at the Bakken Museum. She is also a Principal with STEM Ahead.
Though Tim Barrett’s background is mainly in theater and art, Tim is eager to be able to use that experience and knowledge to further the mission of creating self-directed learners who also have a life in the STEM disciplines. Tim is currently a Principal with STEM Ahead and a Special Consultant with The Bakken Science Museum.