2. By Providing Research Infrastructure
While industry projects allow students to flex their new skills with their peers, they do not allow students to witness professionals in action. By experiencing university-sponsored research, students get two primary benefits.
First, they become more involved in hands-on learning (shown to be 20 percent more effective than traditional teaching methods). Second, research projects allow students to directly observe and participate with professionals in the scientific method. There are differences between theoretical knowledge, practical skills and applied solutions: research projects show students how qualified professionals bring all three of those attributes together.
For one project at Florida Polytechnic University, students worked with an experienced professor to research whether a sugar compound found in certain microscopic organisms could be employed to provide other organisms with a form of radiation shielding. This type of research could pave the way for human immunity to galactic cosmic radiation—crucial for space travel—or even protecting DNA storage for colonization of other planets.
Research projects allow students to practice the scientific method with seasoned professionals in a way that other forms of hands-on learning fall short. Many top STEM institutions provide some form of research opportunities to their students.
3. By Integrating Softs Skills with Hard Skills
Which skills are the most important for successful STEM careers? Technical skills, like experience with an oscilloscope or MATLab, have historically been the foundation of STEM education; the challenge is making sure those technical skills will stand the test of time. For example, C++ may be the premier programming language of today, but the archaic programming methodology of tomorrow. STEM students must leave their higher education program knowing not just how to do, but how to think.
Many colleges have become so focused on instilling technical skills that they fail to cultivate crucial soft skills like presentation techniques or technical writing proficiency. The best schools empower their students with a healthy balance of both. Though an idea can revolutionize an industry, it will fail if it cannot be communicated to others. Soft skills will also stand the test of time; even if C++ goes out of style, the ability to communicate an idea to a coworker, client or investor will always be in high demand.
STEM professionals have a challenging job. They must adapt constantly and work to tackle the world’s toughest problems. But perhaps the more difficult task belongs to our educators: preparing students to solve tomorrow’s problems with technology that doesn’t exist yet.
Fortunately, STEM universities are ahead of the curve, relying on the power of industry connections, research experience, and an integrated skill set to produce the next generation of innovative leaders.