INSPIRATION, EARLY ENGINEERING EDUCATION ARE KEYS TO ADDRESSING THE 3C’S
Mark W. Albers, ExxonMobil senior vice president, is delivering the keynote at the regional dialogue in Houston. He took time to give us his thoughts on the 3C’s and the importance of STEM education.
Engineering is sometimes referred to as the “silent E” in STEM education. What are your thoughts on corporate America’s role in inspiring the next generation of innovative engineers?
Inspire is the right word. Students who aspire to be future engineers typically have to make the right class choices around the 8th grade to prepare for the harder STEM subjects in high school and college. To make sure that they’re ready, we must reach and inspire young minds at that earlier age to ensure that they get a chance to see engineering as the great and fulfilling career it is.
Many students, however, do not even consider the possibility of engineering as a career unless they have a family member or role model who is an engineer. This is especially true among students in demographic groups that are underrepresented among STEM professions. The best way, then, to get more students in the engineering pipeline that extends from elementary school to the workplace is to develop teachers who have a passion and a talent to make STEM subjects come alive. They must know how to make engineering real for students with hands-on learning and nuts-and-bolts projects.
With these needs in mind, ExxonMobil supports efforts to attract brilliant young minds onto a path to excel as engineers in, for example, medicine, computing, aerospace – or to become one of the 18,000 scientists and engineers who work at ExxonMobil.
One such program is a partnership with PGA golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, which brings innovative teaching methods to 600 third- through fifth-grade teachers each summer during the school break. Another is the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp, which has provided more than 8,000 underserved students with an expenses-paid, residential camp for hands-on, student-centered learning. And we support the Sally Ride Science Academy, which has helped thousands of educators spark excitement about STEM subjects for close to 1 million students.
ExxonMobil is also a founding sponsor of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI). Our goal is to find programs that work, and scale them up in schools and universities around the nation.
There are many such efforts supported by other businesses and non-profit organizations that help teachers inspire students in STEM subjects. We need them all.
What do you believe are the essential qualities and abilities engineers need to succeed?
Beyond strong technical abilities, our engineers must have good communication skills – a requirement now being addressed by the nation’s best engineering schools. An engineer needs the ability to work in, and effectively influence, project teams that include scientists, accountants, lawyers, and other professionals – as well as to ensure understanding about projects and the technologies we use in the communities where we all work and live.
An engineer also must have integrity. In our field, integrity means more than tight seams and strong welds. It means adhering to sound engineering principles, attention to detail, and an unrelenting focus on protecting people and the environment. It also means having the courage to speak the truth even though it may not be popular or well received by their audiences.
Finally, we look for leaders by seeking out graduates with leadership experience in college and extracurricular activities. In my experience, leaders can often be identified early on. Consider the story of David as a shepherd boy. He was the last person you would choose to take on Goliath. He had no military rank or title. But David was the one who accepted the challenge on that day, and using the training he had, led his side to a decisive victory. Leaders are those who have the courage to accept challenges and take them on for the benefit of others.
What do you believe is the key to bolstering America’s competitiveness in the global economy?
The key is education. Our nation’s competitive abilities rest on our math and science education. And yet, American students are not ranking as high as we need them to.
Our concern over these shortcomings is what led ExxonMobil to become a founding sponsor of National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI). It is essential that students develop critical reasoning skills – what they should know and be able to do for later success in college and the workforce.
Beyond education, there needs to be an increased understanding by policymakers of the role of certainty and sound policy as an essential part of the business climate. Energy projects in particular take years of planning, investment, and risk management from their conception to reality. When policymakers and industry understand their respective roles and responsibilities, industry is free to generate new technologies and opportunities – as we see in the ongoing creation of millions of new jobs associated with the rise of unconventional oil and natural gas development in the United States. That’s just one example of what American engineering and entrepreneurship can do.