This week is National FFA Week and Engineering Week. These two are very important on their own, but combined they can have amazing potential. You may have heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). It’s a growing trend in our education system today. But it is important to reflect on how it may be a tool to strengthen our own community. For Mayville, this can be referred to as STEAM. The “A” is for Agriculture (and some may present the case for the Arts). But how does STEAM power our local community in 2017?
First, let’s look at what STEAM really is. President Obama said “STEM is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…”
STEM traces its roots to US Congress in 2007. At that time, the America COMPETES Act became law and was intended to increase America’s investment in science and engineering research, and in STEM education.
However, STEM is basically an ideology, a guideline if you will, for a focus on directing education towards science, technology, engineering, and math to help America grow in a global market. Therefore, it can be applied differently at any given level. There is not a one-size-fits-all program for schools to follow. There are various recommendations at different levels, but it is not a boiler-plate plan. At our local level, we can adapt this for our community.
Mayville is a community that is supported by industry. Any given community has basic “Pillars” on which the community stands. A Pillar is necessary for the community to continue in its current state or to prosper. Without a Pillar, the community falls apart. For Mayville, the Pillars of the community can be viewed as manufacturing and agriculture. Yes, you read that right, agriculture. Take a minute of this FFA Week to think about it. Manufacturing is the backbone of the community, but without agriculture, the community would falter. Do not think of cows, sows and plows, but rather think of cheese processors, milk processors, refrigeration warehouses, cooperatives, canning factories, farms producing products, and the supporting businesses such as trucking companies and repair parts stores supporting all those businesses. Mayville also has a unique situation where the manufacturers are heavily dependent on the manufacturing of agricultural equipment that is used around the world. Take agriculture out of the community, and it would fall apart. Take manufacturing out of the community, and it would fall apart. One is dependent on the other, and the community relies on this.
There are other supports of the community like tourism, service based businesses, and other businesses. These can be considered Arches that rest on the Pillars of the community. The community can still hold together if the Arches fall apart. Arches can be rebuilt as long as the Pillars are in place. And so, everything in Mayville as we know it is dependent on manufacturing and agriculture.
This is why STEAM is so important to the future of Mayville and the country. To compete in a global market, and to continue to flourish in agriculture and manufacturing, we need a population that can support this industry. Without the people, the industry cannot survive. We need to be smarter, more focused, and geared towards the future in all that we do so that our Pillars remain intact.
STEAM is the rallying message behind the ambition. We need to focus on our youth, to educate them, to empower them, for the world they are preparing to enter. The demand in this part of the world is in manufacturing and agriculture. If we want the Pillars to hold up over time, we need to reinforce them with a population that excels in the skills needed to maintain and grow the foundation.
When we talk about skills, we are not just talking about dairy science and welding 101. Agriculture involves everything from Food Science to Plant Genetics, Natural Resources, and Animal Genomes. Manufacturing of today and tomorrow may deal with a standard MIG welder, but also involves 3D printers, fiber-optic 3D laser cutting units, and laser etching systems along with fully automated robotic forming and welding units. All of these are in need of people that can grow with the technology over time and not only operate the basic functions, but service and support and design products for these operations. We are talking about everything from general labor positions to engineering positions in research and development of new products and goods that take advantage of the technologies available.
This is the beauty of STEAM. It gives us a focal point in our endeavors in education. It helps to prepare students for the future by giving them a foundation on the basics of all this technology and science, while giving them options to pursue advanced fields in the future through engineering and technology degrees, should they so choose. It also gives us the freedom to adapt the program to our needs as a community. That is, we can help expose more students to the many faces of STEAM to help show them what is possible in the world, while building a basic skill set that will help them to learn and grow for the rest of their lives. Therefore, upon graduation from Mayville, our next generation will have many more options for their future than any generation before. That is, to join the local workforce, or to pursue advanced degrees.
Long term, such a program can help more people to move back to the Mayville area. That is, to have folks go out into the world and learn and grow in a field related to STEAM, and return back to the Mayville area later in life to raise their next generation in a community with values and opportunities that they want to pass on.
No matter how one looks at it, STEAM is something to embrace for Mayville. It gives us a focus on what matters most…giving our next generation the foundation they need for their own lives while shoring up our own Pillars in Mayville. What better way to celebrate agriculture, engineering, and manufacturing during FFA Week and Engineering week! Consider all that a STEAM program has to offer and reflect on and celebrate the work of those that create and support the Pillars of our community!