Re: STEM Education and Careers – Miles To Go Before We Sleep

In his most recent Blog Post, Paul Borawski, CEO of ASQ, challenges the new and retained 2011 Influential Voices – and welcomes them to the 2012 Influential Voices effort – the effort to Raise the Voice of Quality!

The global community of Quality focused folks is growing, and we have much to do.


Part of that “to-do” is making sure there will be a generation of engineers and scientists to carry on the work of advancing the field.

Paul and others rightly worry about STEM education and careers.

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math 

Let me borrow from Paul’s post:

Here in the U.S., National Engineers Week will be observed February 19-25.   In observance of the week, ASQ commissioned some research on teens’ pursuit of STEM careers.  The good news is that teens understand that engineering will be second only to medicine for available jobs. However, teens are a bit reluctant to pursue STEM fields because they perceive the programs will be costly and demanding. There is a lot of fear when it comes to math, which was reinforced in my university tour last weekend.


I too have been thinking about that. And had recently created and delivered the following BOOK for my oldest grandson (12 y/o) to complete BEFORE we PAY him for GRADES. His grandmother and I have our eye on him. We are prodders and pushers. We know that he and his success at school can be leveraged (hopefully) later, with the three other grandchildren. So we are think about multiple long terms results.

A couple of years ago we moved him from one pay plan to another. We went from paying for A’s and B’s (and deducting for D’s and F’s – which was never necessary, just part of the equation) to only Paying for Straight A’s. We did so because it was time. As a Swimmer, always out to beat his own time (he’s got a GREAT Coach)  grandson Luke understood when we “raised the bar” – think “raise the voice on GRADES.”

He didn’t like it – but he got it.

Now Grandpa Guy raised that dang bar again and declared, “No money for the next Straight A’s until this book is also completed.” Hey – it’s our Program and in the fine print (verbally communicated and reinforced with each payment – half of which goes into THE BANK SAVINGS ACCOUNT) we reserved the right to tweak the Program. And we make it clear each time what the Program is all about. It’s about his future (not ours). It’s all about that second or third job out of college.

That’s what I say to him. That degree gets you your first job out of college and then maybe the second. After that it’s all about what you did and accomplished on the job – in the last job.

He howled (pre-teen that he is) about the latest move by The Grandparents, messing with his money and all.

But as we’ve got him by the wallet, we’ve got his attention. And yes, this is tricky business, as written about by Daniel Pink and messing with people’s Motivation. But I have been down this road before – shaping the behavior of kids. See my Driver’s Test & Agreement – for new teenage drivers and their parents – circa 1985 – here.

But once he took a good hard look at the next hoops he was being made to jump through – he concluded to Grammy, he’d been there and done that.

He’s in a great school – and he’s already looked at these issues – covered by the book. In 7th grade. They have a great Music Program – he plays guitar and trumpet.  And he’s all into that. Music. Thus – option two for comparison – to Engineering. He’s GREAT at Math. Prides himself on being in the top three (wants to always be #1) in Math. I’m leveraging what is naturally there. And happy to find out that the school has already had him investigate these issues of his future – and darn early too.

When he was in 2nd grade Grammy and I started taking him each fall to “Appalachian State” – up the mountain from Luke’s home, to see a football game. Several aunts and uncles and other family and friends have attended there. If you don’t know where that is – ask a Michigan alumni/football fan about who came into the BIG HOUSE and took home a win – back to Boone NC.

Yes, Boone for Daniel Boone. We went to a football game because he’s a boy. We’re not sure of our target activity with his sister, who is now in the 2nd grade.

But we wanted to visit the campus, when it was really humming. When students and parents and everybody was electric with excitement. I wanted to point out and explain Dorms. And building where classes occurred. The Library. The Mess Hall (sorry, that’s the US Navy talk coming through) – the places where you would eat. The downtown area where you’d find a job (after the Freshman year) if you didn’t find one on campus.

They have jobs for students on campus!?!

Yep. Who woulda thought!?!

The Goal: Demystify College to a Grade Schooler 

It had been demystified for me in the 12th grade – in that last spring before graduation. A bit late – to get mentally prepared IMO. I won’t let my lessons learned go for naught.

It’s All About Him – Not Us

It’s his future. Not ours. The choices he makes now are important for himself later – but, but….

In the words of Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven – 1971),

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run 
There’s still time to change the road you’re on. 

While those words have always been important to me – since 1971 – I also understood that it often gets harder to change the road you are on the longer you wait to get off that path. Better to start sooner rather than later.

And it makes me wonder.

What’s a Grandparent to Do?

Reinforce and Enforce – a disciplined/thinking approach – and model it. And yes, it does not always work, isn’t always easy, can be dang difficult if not impossible, etc., etc.

So – this has got to be about them and their dreams.

What if they “got no” dreams?

Plant some dream seeds and help them imagine some. Imagine multiple “what if’s.”

And correct (gently) their grammar as needed. ALWAYS do that.

Life – A Big Portion of It – is a Math Problem.

Do the Math

But make it a game.

Back when he was just in the 2nd grade – we started on the 1st drive north – up US 321 from mid-way up the mountain, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, passing the east-west path of The Blue Ridge Parkway – on our way to Boone NC.

I took advantage of the road construction – a widening project – going from two very winding road lanes to 4 with a median and all of that (shoulders, etc.) – which is a little different in the mountains than in the flatlands. Because you’ve got to move this mountain here – to over there – and fill that gully.

“Luke, do you know who plans construction projects like this?” I deliberately ask, tempting him into my web, my trap.

“Civil Engineers,” I reply when he takes more than a few seconds and I know is stumped.

Now, for the kicker. I had worked all of this out in my head as we wound up the road – past the trucks and the other implements of Civil Engineers – that back-in-the-day used to be all “yellow” – “Luke, do you ever hear and feel the dynamiting on your drive to your dentist up there in Boone?

Like a good lawyer, never ask a child a question that you don’t already know the answer to.

“Yes,” he says, and he then goes into great explanation – with excitement – of Mom stopping with all of the other cars as they are held up for those Civil Engineers and other construction workers – to blow up part of the mountain so that the trucks, and other implements, can move that part of the mountain from here to there. “Grandpa Guy, you should hear the explosion! And you should feel the ground shake!”

Shakin’ All Over

We are dealing here with a grade school boy – so you’ve got to know your target audience. And this is “Mr. Fireworks” every July. That’s where a good portion of his allowance, grade money and birthday money goes each year. He saves it to spend it – always thinking ahead!

Not typical, I know.

So I knew how to leverage interest in Civil Engineering. At least some initial interest. And initial interest is all I’m striving for here – early in the game.

I tell him, declaratively – he is going to go to App State, get a Civil Engineering degree, and blow up mountains for a living.

Yes, they actually pay people money – good money – to blow up mountains!

The Kicker to the Kicker

And then I quickly add, “You are going to go to App State – unless you decide to go somewhere else, to get a Civil Engineering degree – unless you decide to get some other degree, and blow up mountains for a living – unless you decide to do something else for a living.

Paying the Piper

Who makes this all possible? This living out of the dreams of youth? The reason for even dreaming as a young person?

And more importantly – what kills those dreams? Makes them “for naught?”

It takes one’s self, the family, the friends, the clan, the village, the county, the state and the Feds.

Working together.

It kills those dream when there is bad education, uncaring family, friends, the clan, the village, the county, the state and the Feds.

As my good friend and colleague Thiagi (Sivasailam Thiagarajan) has said for decades:

All Learning Happens in the Debriefing

So I wait for Master Luke to complete his assignment – so that we can talk about it and I can guide his reflections on what he has learned.

The family computer blew up – but is now back and working. The grades came in last week – Straight A’s – he proudly showed to his Grammy. She reminded him of that mean ol’ Grandpa Guy’s add on – THE ASSIGNMENT – the completion of the booklet – that needs to be completed before payment is rendered.

Piece of cake he replied. Already been there and done that.

But it all leads to the Reflection part. The Debriefing. And the “how does this apply to the bigger picture” – and gearing up for life. His life. His choices. His results. His hard work.

Just one of many lessons to convey to a grandchild from a grandparent.

Hey, it’s my job. As a Grandfather.

At least that’s how I look at it.

With three more grandkids following in the wake of the first. The other three got little books last month as well – theirs were handwritten – providing a math quiz and matching like things – stuff age appropriate for the 7 y/o, the 5 y/o and the 4 y/o. Grammy and I quit telling the 7 y/o (the only girl) that she needs to loves math – because she says she does not.  But her grades are tops in Math. So we play the double and triple reverse psychology game with her – while acknowledging that that’s what we are all doing.

So it has become a tease – us telling her that if she wants to be a Rocket Scientist – she had better be good at Math – when she has no intention of becoming a Rocket Scientist. She is into Baseball and Ballet right now. But she, like her brother, wants to be good and get good grades – and be the best. Luckily we’ve got that going for us – and she has that going for her. We are lucky.

But I know we’ve got to be careful. It is the proverbial double edge sword. Encouraging and cajoling.

You cannot treat kids all alike. Even if you have similar goals for them.

Adopt and/or Adapt

So I share this simple book with all of you – as a series of pages – so that you might adopt what you can – and adapt the rest.

One size never fits all.

Especially when it comes to children.

And we – who are in the periphery of children – all children – we have our work cut out for us.

We have miles to go before we sleep.

If we are to do our jobs well.

Get ‘er done.

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3 comments on “Re: STEM Education and Careers – Miles To Go Before We Sleep

  1. Pingback: ASQ Influential Voices: Future Engineers and Scientists » Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog

  2. I will say I personally wouldn’t pay for grades. As you mention Pink (and also Alfie Kohn, Deming, David Langford…) has lots on this topic (paying for meeting goals – extrinsic motivation) and the problems it causes.

    I would be more willing than others for a grandparent to offer an incentive for completing a project. And the project you outline is very good. I don’t want to encourage kids (myself) to care about grades. I never did. It was fine. Learning is what I want them to value and strive for. There are consequences to not focusing on grades I think those consequences are much preferable to the consequences of focusing on grades (I have seen far more focus on grades and far less on learning in my time in the educational system). Huge waste, in my opinion.

    I think having them research and discover the likely outcomes of various choices is a way to help them understand long term thinking. This project alone I don’t think would do much. But this project along with a consistent effort to help kids see the long term consequences of short term decisions can be profound. They will learn much more by finding the answers themselves and discussing them with you, than if you just told them or had them read from 1 source. Having them do the research and discuss the learning is a very good design.


    • I read Pink’s book with interest. However I have been doing this – paying for grades – for almost 30 years. I did it first with a younger brother and then with nephews and nieces, and with my step children – and now with my grandchildren. Most of the time – not always – it brought kids with D’s and F’s to B’s and A’s. It brought up grades from mostly C’s to much improved grades with the others. In 3 cases it led to straight A’s from really lousy grades – for a sustained period. Everyone – but one – improved. And then those good grades continued from Grade School through HS and into college.

      And yes, this is just one part of a discussion – as it has in the past – about grades, and hard work, and dealing with teachers that one isn’t fond of, etc. Back to grades – without good ones – you have limited your choices for college. That’s just the way the current system works – as imperfect as it is. Just as SAT and ACT test scores are problematic – they are what they are. One of the things I told these recipients about this as we started – was that if they improved their grades – then they were proving to all of us that they could do it – get better grades – if they wanted to. And that if their grades fell off later – it was because they didn’t really care about their education. And that it was their life – and that was a choice that they were making about their life. They would also know that I would up the bar. It got to the point that one nephew “won” SCUBBA lessons in Florida (lived in Chicagoland) one grading period for making more A’s than B’s – and then won a trip to Wyoming to go Snow Mobiling in the Rockies. Those were prizes of his choosing before the grading period started – actually before the “Grade Game” started. He had more F’s than D’s and “nothing else” when we started this in Junior High. He spent 3 of 4 years on the Dean’s List in HS.

      Each child is different. Each responds differently. These were tailored approaches. And they were worked out with the child – except for the first of the grandchildren – as he was too young – but he and I have talked about Pink’s book and what it says – but he does not wish me to stop the Grade Game. So it continues, for now.


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