Innovators and educators come together at Northrop Grumman
“Today we are here to talk about our kids and how to prepare them for the 21st century,” said Assemblymember Betsy Butler at an informational hearing she hosted on Education and the Aerospace Industry last Friday at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach. “Many of you know we aren’t educating our kids fast enough and preparing them for what we call STEM education, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. [We are] really trying to move STEM and STEM related items into our classrooms.”
The event featured discussions on educational needs, student training in STEM education and a special robotics demonstration by a California Robotics Team.
Because of Butler’s involvement in the Assembly Select Committee on Aerospace and her connection to the technology heavy 53rd district, she was able to bring together many knowledgeable brains such as representatives from Northrop Grumman, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Boeing along with representatives from El Camino College and the Da Vinci School in Hawthorne.
“STEM must be a high priority for the state and the nation,” said Gabe A. Watson, Vice President, Aerospace Engineering, Space Systems, and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “When the workforce is world-class it benefits our company, our country and our economy.”
Watson stressed the need for a relationship between classes between all levels of education.
“It should be a unifying effort,” said Watson. “Qualified, engaged teachers are critical… a good teacher can encourage students for the rest of their life. Knowledge is expanding at an ever increasing rate… this is a time when we shouldn’t be talking about declining interests in STEM — it should just be skyrocketing.”
David M. Seidel, Deputy Education Director at NASA’s JPL and Manager of STEM Elementary and Secondary education agreed.
“We have a deep and abiding concern about the next generation of explorers and the citizenry that will collectively determine if we are going to follow our nature and continue to be scientific explorers, or turn away from discovery … [we need] to face our global challenges, or become victims of decisions left to others or just left unmade,” Seidel said.
Tamika Lang, the Community Investor and Education Subject Matter Expert for Boeing suggested the need to inspire young people to explore technical careers by providing one-on-one mentorship and internships for students so they can learn what it truly means to be an engineer or a scientist. She also added that STEM education is important, but [teaching] the arts is also a critical component to creative thinking.
“In today’s world the lines really blur betweens STEM, the arts, and technology. [They are] all are crucial if you want to see the kinds of innovative products companies have produced in the past years,” Lang said.
According to Matthew Wunder, Ed.D., Executive Director and Founder of Da Vinci Schools in Hawthorne, they took the way the school system currently teaches students into account and devised an innovative plan to make students more involved and excited about learning.
“Our current standardized tests do not begin to measure what’s really important to people in aerospace and other industries,” said Wunder. He believes that what is important is that students learn “higher order thinking skills, ability to create, ability to collaborate and know they learned and learn even without a text book.”
Wunder added, “Everyone accepts the fact that in order to learn how to drive a car you cant just read about it or play a computer drive that simulates driving but rather [you] have to get behind the wheel of actual car to practice… As you first learn to drive you can actually feel the physics at work. Feel how much power is needed in order to reach the desired speed or turn of a car. Your mind is engaged in multiple tasks at once and your senses are alert. Some memorizations of traffic laws are required and some basic familiarity of mechanics comes through practice. Driving also involves crucial adjustments and problem-solving skills as you react to others in circumstances on the road. We believe all learning should be like learning to drive; students need to execute real world application in order to gain a deep understanding of the subject matter. Without real world context they lack motivation and connection to subject matter.”
The “Lemonheads,” a robotics team from Somis, California, set up a robotic course and demonstrated their out-of-the-box thinking and technical skills to a crowd of about 100. They navigated a set course to gain points by moving their robots from one task to another, using light sensors, edges, programming steps and colors.
“It really takes creative thinking to meet the needs of our students today with the limited resources we have,” said Lang. “At the same time state is facing challenging times, our corporations are also facing challenging times and looking ever so diligently at the return on investment for every dollar that is spent, not only for businesses but investments in community. We recognize the value of those dollars and urgency of need that is out here.”