Articles / Making the Investment

Making the Investment

Posted on: November 4th, 2011 by No Comments

By: Dr. Oliver J. Myers, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Mississippi State University

In his address to the National Academy of Sciences in April 2009, President Obama made this declaration:

Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been.

In today’s global economy, America’s sustained and future competitive edge depends on the preparation of our young people are today. Many states, counties and local school districts have created and are implementing initiatives to increase Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational and research programs.

In this time of great economic unrest, the last thing most people can a ford to do is make financial investments. I submit to you that is exactly what we must do regarding our country’s and children’s future in the STEM disciplines. The greatest investment (academically, emotionally, financially, and/or sacrificially) one can make is to positively invest into the life of another, particularly children. I have been blessed to have many people invest in my success. Many investments were academic, several were financial, a far greater number were emotional and spiritual, but all beneficial. Even those that did not have my best interests at heart worked to fuel my drive and passion to pursue excellence in science and engineering so voraciously.

The United States is now poised to make a heavy investment in its physical and financial infrastructures to stimulate a badly needed economic recovery. However, equal attention and investment must be devoted to cultivating the nations human infrastructure. After all, a highly skilled and educated work force including engineers, mathematicians, and scientists will be needed to implement the investments going into building the nations physical and financial infrastructures.

It is clear that parental involvement will be the premium investment that includes directing and channeling children’s energies toward stimulating STEM activities; engaging and holding academic administrators and educators accountable; exploring external enrichment programs; and participating in school conferences/events. Parental and community involvement ensures:

1. There are qualified math and science teachers in our classrooms;

2. A greater number of parents, families, and communities are informed and further involved in their children’s education;

3. A greater number of students graduating from high school are academically and socially prepared for the rigors of a college education, and;

4. A greater number of graduates pursue STEM careers.

Though a few of the above topics may be outside of our direct circle of influence and control, we can extract some key fundamental parental factors that are most certainly in our control and will lead to our young people’s success in STEM fields:

1. Parents strong view and belief in the vital importance of education

2. Parents reading to the child and the child later reading to the parents

3. Active and consistent encouragement and engagement in the students academic career

4. Productive and continuous interaction with the students educators and counselors

Consider one type of investment we can make in and toward our children. A commercial gaming station console costs approximately $300 and the games range in price from $20 to $100. While the gaming station provides great entertainment, I would like to encourage ourselves to invest the time and money more productively by purchasing a far more useful personal computer (approximately $350), learning and programming our own software systems and properly utilizing the Internet as a resource.

My own personal and familial investments were of the utmost importance in achieving the Masters and PhD in Mechanical Engineering. The financing for half of my Masters and most of my Doctorate came from personal accounts, not external funding, grants or fellowships, which makes me truly value and appreciate the worth of my education (academic and professional). Although the Internet nor premium access cable were not available to me as a child, my parents and a community of elders ensured that I received my fair share of National Geographic periodicals and educational “toys” and kits; watched scientific specials such as National Geographic and Jacques Cousteau; visited museums, zoos and scientific exhibits, and fueled my imagination with comic books, Star Wars, Star Trek, and similar science fiction outlets. Coupled with all of the book knowledge, my parent and elders invested their wisdom’s of personal testimonies of past mistakes, regrets and successes.

As a high school student, advanced classes stimulated the scientific mind and summer programs such as the Minority Introductions to Engineering, (some are free, some cost approximately $300 and some even over a stipend up to $1500) offered one or two weeks of rigorous and in-depth scientific study, thought, investigation, company visits, conversations with college presidents, deans, professors and students, and oh yeah, some fun social activities. College internships, work-study programs and research experiences fueled my passion for developmental research. My careers in industry and government made engineering relevant for day-to-day commercial, industrial and military needs.

I have had a very rich experience as my personal path has afforded me the opportunity to experience a broad spectrum engineering careers in government, private industry and academia. The breadth and depth of my experiences has allowed me to perform a variety of functions in design, production/manufacturing, fundamental research, applied research, teaching/instruction/mentor-ship and management/leadership. As an academic, I have the opportunity to satisfy my entrepreneurial curiosity by conducting and marketing applied research and capitalize on small business funding opportunities from the such agencies as the Department of Defense (DOD), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and even the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). All of these opportunities and countless others can and will be available to you as you develop your own professional goals. In short, making the investment in the creative scientific imagination and realized STEM disciplines opens the door to a wealth of opportunities, including industrial/corporate research, academic/laboratory research, and leadership be it corporate, academic or entrepreneurship.