STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) encompasses the idea of designing a curriculum that brings an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach to education. It’s all about project-based learning, which really means learning by doing. The US government has put efforts into encouraging more students in STEM through investments and partnerships (see here) because they too recognize that STEM is a foundation for innovation and global leadership.
How might we infuse innovation and entrepreneurship concepts into STEM education in order to create the new leaders of the future?
Often when we think of innovation, especially in the context of STEM, we focus around new technologies and products. For example, how can we make use of frontier technologies such as AI, AR/VR and blockchain? How can we make a product faster, lighter? While these are certainly areas that are integral to innovation and advancement, the true benefit of innovation comes from tools, skills, and mindsets that help you really understand who you are creating value for and why. To do this you must understand people and communities and begin to build strategies – product strategies, business strategies – that are viable and address real pains as well as gains.
We approached our question through a series of workshops led by our NYC based Strategy Designer, Carley Jacobson, with middle school and high school students centered around design thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation. We learned that STEM students are particularly well positioned with the skills and mindsets of innovative leaders and entrepreneurs. These skills include prototyping, experimentation, iteration, and ideation.
Shiara Beecroft, San Francisco Branch Manager, and Eugenia Torres, San Francisco Import Gateway Manager, both participated in the workshop series as mentors and end customers for the students to interview. Shiara was impressed that,
“(students) could quickly could get some good insights into our business problems, and surprisingly had some very creative solutions. They enjoyed the exposure and review of the challenges that our industry can present, and for both them and Schenker is was about discovery.”
For Eugenia, the importance of STEM education is attempting to find solutions to real problems. This is especially important for leaders. As Eugenia notes,
“Leaders need to be innovative, think outside the box, be able to listen and understand challenges in order to come up with solutions, concentrate on learning and demonstrate accountability at all levels.”
Practical application of these skills can create more than just products, services, and ideas — they can create companies and leaders. Indra Nooyi, CEO at PepsiCo, comes from an engineering background. She is an advocate for STEM education as gateway to new and innovative futures. In an interview with Freakonomics Indra notes,
“One of the things that my experience has taught me is that if you are trained as a scientist in your youth — through your high school and college — if you stay with the STEM disciplines, you can learn pretty much all of the subjects as you move along in life. And your scientific disciplines play a very important role, and ground you very well as you move into positions of higher and higher authority, whatever the job is.”
The workshop series highlighted these ideas, with students displaying a deeper understanding of innovate mindsets when approaching business problems. They were able to frame and scope problems around logistics and transportation in a way that informed more empathy for their customer (in this case study, DB Schenker), and design solutions around those problems. Shiara Beecroft adds,
“I think the concept of bringing workplace challenges to bright, young people is an innovative way of getting them to learn about challenges in other industries, other than what they have already been exposed to. It’s really exciting to see so many young people so motivated to work outside of their standard school hours to learn new tools and skills.”
The outcomes from our second workshop, run with students 11-14 years old, include technologies like drones, AI, autonomous sensing, and more! (Find the outcomes from our first workshop found here). More importantly than the technologies utilized, the students tapped into some key insights around last mile struggles, safety, communication, and speed that they were able to resolve some real customer pains. Eugenia Torres mentioned how impressed she was with the students who participated and how quickly they absorbed the information,
“We exposed real logistics challenges to these young minds. By witnessing how they engaged and worked as a team to come up with solutions was extremely rewarding.”
Drones were a popular technology utilized to tackle the speed and last mile opportunities. The students looked at business models that had key partners like the manufacturing companies and fixed shipping prices. Students also looking to the Uber model to tap into existing fleets of trucks.
Students used digital platforms and apps to create seamless lines of communication between transportation agents and their clients. They also looked to technologies like AI to help identify and book available storage space.
SAFETY & SPEED
One of the problems the students discovered in their interviews with DB Schenker is that product safety is one of their top responsibilities! The students used sensors with similar technology to Nest sensors to keep track of goods. They also used sensors to build autonomous transportation vehicles.
View the video summary of the workshop: