By Stephanie Bothun, Director of Regional Workforce Development, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership
Nationally, job growth in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries is expected to triple by the year 2018. By that time, it’s projected that there will be 1.2 million unfilled jobs in STEM-related fields.
In Indiana, it’s expected that demand for STEM professionals will drastically outpace supply. Our region must find creative ways to work in partnership across sectors to bridge the gap between workforce supply and industry demand.
Indianapolis students are the city’s future workforce. The experiences they share in their educational programs are the key to spurring interest in tomorrow’s industries. And, if a study by the University of Virginia is any indication, many students could use a spark to ignite their interest in STEM fields.
That study found that nearly two-thirds of teenagers may be discouraged from pursuing STEM careers by the eighth grade. A third of the teens surveyed said they do not know anyone who works in those fields, and another third noted that they do not understand what people in these fields do.
The study also showed that:
- Attending high-quality STEM after-school programs leads to increased enrollment in STEM-related courses, increased test scores, and a higher likelihood of pursuing a STEM career.
- High school graduates who participated in a high-quality STEM curriculum are nearly 3 times as likely to major in a STEM subject.
- Students receiving training through a high-quality STEM curriculum are 3-to-4 times more likely to study engineering.
That’s why programs like the City of Indianapolis VEX Robotics Championship, which will conduct its fourth annual event this weekend (Jan. 23-24), are critical. VEX Robotics is globally revered as a fun and exciting way to engage students and instill valuable life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to work well on a team — all while being exposed to STEM concepts.
Additionally, VEX Robotics offers students an engaging platform for learning about areas rich with STEM career opportunities. The program allows educators to easily customize projects to meet the level of students’ abilities. You can find the VEX platform in elementary, middle and high schools and in university labs around the globe.
Launched in 2012, the City of Indianapolis VEX Robotics Championship — IndyVRC — is presented by Roche Diagnostics and supported by dozens of other community partners, including USA Funds®. The event aims to spark interest in STEM careers at an early age by providing a space for teams of students to work alongside engineers and other industry professionals. Each team designs, builds and programs a robot to compete against robots from other teams in a sports-like game.
Teams win awards for creating engineering plans, designing effective robots, cooperating with other teams, and enhancing civic awareness and passion for STEM fields within their communities. They compete for a shot at the state championship, for scholarships, and for paid internships through the city’s technology department.
The growth of IndyVRC in the four short years since it began points to a promising future for STEM education — and the students primed to pursue STEM careers. The first IndyVRC featured 38 teams. The 2016 event will showcase more than 160 teams comprising more than 1,200 students from elementary, middle and high schools, making it the largest citywide VEX Robotics competition in the nation.
This weekend’s event will include matches that pit student-created robots against each other to show off students’ engineering skills; a STEM fair featuring hands-on activities presented by industry leaders, community organizations and universities; and civic leaders who will address the importance of STEM education.
IndyVRC supports a transformation in Indianapolis’ STEM climate that we hope will pay dividends for the city, its students and its workforce for years to come.