Developing young leaders in STEM

January 29, 2019

As parents, coaches and supporters in the community, we have a responsibility to help our young people grow up to be productive citizens and leaders.  As businessmen and women, we should continuously encourage our brightest students to concentrate on the sciences so the U.S. leads the world in technology and innovation.  The global job market increasingly relies on scientific and analytical skills and thus we should start early encouraging kids to focus on these areas of study.

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a number of young people who were motivated to learn more about science, technology, math, aviation, and space - all relevant topics in today’s tech-driven world.  I also had the opportunity to talk with their parents after the events and challenge them to stimulate their kids to become critical thinkers with an insatiable appetite for knowledge by embracing challenging problems.   My message to the young people was similar in both instances - study hard, read books, learn new things, listen to the teachers and adults you admire, and work hard on your math and science skills. Any STEM-related subject in today’s fast-paced world relies heavily on advanced mathematical skills.  

 

During the first presentation, I spoke at the Polk County Civil Air Patrol squadron annual awards banquet.  The CAP squadron was celebrating their 40th Anniversary and I was excited to learn that so many young people in the area were actively involved in the unit.  I was also pleased to meet numerous senior mentors - including their leader, Lieutenant Jim Chamberland - who take an active role in the students’ development.  During my talk, I challenged the young people to develop their leadership style in school, at home around their younger brothers and sisters and in their churches and community clubs.  I offered that each of them should have a strong moral compass, and that honesty and integrity would be important elements of any career they pursue.  I emphasized good decision making in their day-to-day lives, especially in school as well as after school during their limited free time. I also spoke briefly about their need to prioritize their time in a way that ensured they could achieve long-term goals and not just try to have fun with their friends.  The young people seemed to respond to my message and I realized yet again that, as adults, we need to not only remind them of these tried and true adages, but demonstrate them by the examples we set in our daily lives.

 

My second encounter with young people last month was as a judge for a 4th grade Space Exposition at the Combee Academy of Design and Engineering (CODE) in Central Florida.  During this experience, I listened to the students’ presentation on the NASA Space Program and specifically the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20th, 1969. Hearing the kids describe Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon made me proud to be an American and hopeful for our future since I knew these young people felt the same excitement I did for such a monumental accomplishment.  I also watched as the teachers smiled with pride as the kids delivered their memorized lines and offered facts about space travel, gravity, and lunar landing crafts and other significant human achievements. My message to the kids after their presentations - and the teachers as well - was to ‘keep it up…never stop learning, and always challenge yourselves by trying to solve more and more complex problems’.  

 

Developing young leaders in STEM is an important endeavor for all business leaders in America today since it will determine the vibrancy of our country and the competitiveness of the U.S. in the world market for years to come.  As parents, we should keep our role in this process simple by continuing to challenge our kids with higher levels of learning and encouraging their teachers to improve students’ work-ethic and study habits. Business leaders and mentors can also encourage our young people to learn to follow before they should ever expect to lead.  This will no doubt enable them to compete better in life and succeed in a fully-connected world.  To keep our edge in the global market we must have strong leaders in the STEM-related areas of study - and I truly believe our kids can accomplish far more in these disciplines than we ever did as they grow up and choose a profession.  Let’s help them establish a habit of lifelong learning.

 

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Jake Polumbo graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1981 with a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering Sciences and a concentration in aeronautical engineering.  He received his Masters Degree in Aviation Sciences from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, graduated from the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, and was a senior Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

 

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