STEM: Keeping the Interest

This blog was published by InsideHPC as a special guest feature.

You may have seen articles on the anticipated shortfall of engineers, computer scientists, and technology designers to fill open jobs. Numbers from the Report to the President in 2012 (President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) show a shortfall of one million available workers to fill STEM-related jobs by 2020. This is just in the US — Europe is also projecting a similar gap between available jobs and suitable candidates.

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It’s a career set that can cross the wide range of HPC applications, such as designing devices, modeling physics, detecting dark matter, protein modeling, and aircraft design. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Although I’m not a researcher on this topic, from what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like much fun to today’s students.

Although we don’t know for certain the reasons why students today choose not to continue their studies in the STEM areas, we need to make a guess as to why we are seeing this decline in future available workforce and what can be done to lessen or reverse this trend.

In one article I read, lack of interest stemmed from the lack of exposure to STEM. Girls fall into this category particularly during middle- and high-school years, when they tend to back away from Math and Science. Whether they do this because of peer pressure (‘girls don’t do math’) or a specific movement to follow their friends towards more ‘female’ types of classes is not entirely known. Making sure that all students are exposed to math and science classes (in elementary up to high school curriculum) will generate more interest in this area.

Another article cited creating and encouraging participation in special programs such as workshops and afterschool programs as a way to educate students on what STEM is and expose them to the opportunities provided by STEM careers. Programs that focus on increasing exposure to these fields have been shown to create tremendous positive interest in them.

Studies have shown that mentoring can be invaluable for building confidence, generating interest, and increasing understanding. Mentors assigned to groups of students can share their experiences in STEM careers and help guide students in activities or studies that will help them be successful in their STEM careers of choice. Mentoring underrepresented groups is particularly important due to the lack of role models.

Taking charge and educating is an excellent way to keep students interested in STEM careers. Make students aware of resources they can access to learn more about STEM careers. Educate schools and counselors on STEM career opportunities and resources so that they can direct students who have this interest.

The ISC High Performance Conference is taking charge and educating with the establishment of a STEM Student Day at the ISC High Performance conference in Frankfurt in June. The program is new this year, and aims to bring together STEM students and HPC Community, show students the technical skills that will help them in their careers, and introduce students to the various jobs in the STEM field. The hope is that early exposure to the HPC community will encourage the next generation workforce to acquire the necessary HPC skills and pursue STEM careers.

As Martin Meuer, the general co-chair of ISC High Performance said, “This gave us the idea to organize a STEM Day, as many organizations that exhibit at ISC could profit from meeting the future workforce directly.” Indeed, exhibitors will benefit. They will have the opportunity to meet the students directly, share what their organizations are doing, and get the next generation workforce interested in what they are doing.

The program is free to attend. Up to 200 undergraduate and graduate students are targeted, including those not attending the main conference. The program starts in the afternoon with a guided tour of the exhibition floor and a visit to the Student Cluster Competition, after which students will attend the Student Cluster Competition Award Ceremony and join Thomas Sterling’s Conference Keynote. Next, they will attend a welcome reception where they will have the opportunity to hear a Keynote Address by Steve Conway of Hyperion Research and Michael Bader of Technical University of Munich, before participating in a career fair. Lastly, dinner and networking.

STEM Student Day is sponsored by SuperMicro at the Leader Level and PRACE (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe), CSCS (Swiss National Supercomputing Centre) and RIKEN AICS at the Mover level. These sponsors have recognized that increasing the STEM workforce and shining a light on their organizations as STEM employers will boost the HPC user base and give them access to the available talent that supports that user base. Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Contact to get involved.

I applaud the ISC High Performance conference for taking the time and resources to create this program. Conference organizers are focusing on diversity in many ways, from student-based initiatives to targeting women attendees. Studies have shown that the lack of women in STEM careers will be the single largest issue regarding the future available workforce. Bringing awareness to this issue by educating the community and taking action is a great and necessary step.

To learn more about the ISC High Performance STEM Student Day, visit the program webpage. Registration will open April 14.