I’m embarrassed to admit that the last time I came to a SWE conference was the Long Beach conference in 2009. Ten years ago. Then, I was amazed to see around 7000 attendees. This year, in Anaheim, the unofficial tally is over 16,000. I’ve heard there are around 600 employers here looking for new hires. It is a good time to be an engineer. Alas, that phase of my life is past me. My goal of finding tips on making STEM fields appealing to middle-grade and higher school aged kids in fiction took me to a few sessions today.
The Keynote address by Carol Malnati (VP of R&D at Medtronic) netted a few inspirational thoughts. “Don’t let adversity harden your heart. Let it harden your determination.” She encouraged listeners to focus on what’s in front of you, not the entirety of the challenge/problem and to love the journey you are on. These are fitting words for anyone. She closed with, “Enjoy losing your way, finding yourself, as we live, we learn, we lead.”
Next up was a session on Reaching Out to Over 1000 Middle School Girls. Sarah Gilmore, Strategic Account Manager at Keysight Technologies in the Denver area spoke about a program I’d never heard of. GESTEM. Girls Experience STEM. She is the chair of a group that runs an impressive program for middle school girls. Their goal is to expose girls to STEM who wouldn’t be exposed in their day to day life. It strikes me that as an author that is a wonderful goal for myself.
My next session was Human Space Flight: Is the Technology Ready? The short answer is – don’t go buying a ticket to stay on the International Space Station (ISS) or a hotel in low-earth orbit any time soon. While things are moving steadily forward, you should invest the $28 million it will cost you in todays dollars until it is safer and more common. The technologies that will enable your higher than anyone view of earth are the Delta Heavy IV rocket, the crew capsule (Orian and SpaceX) and BEAM Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. These technologies are at Technology Readiness Levels of 7 and 8. You don’t want to don a space suit and climb into one of these systems until they hit 9.
The last session, Do After School Robotics Programs Help Keep Girls in STEM, reviewed data from a five-year, national study. The short answer is yes. Though I think that was what we all thought intuitively, it is nice to have data to back it up. I learned two new ideas in this session that I think have applicability in many fields. “Gracious Professionalism” and “Cooperatition.” We can compete with grace, courtesy and cooperation. We don’t have to nuke the competition. Interesting thought in today’s nuclear melt-down political environment.