Shaifer’s FETC® keynote tapped into Gen Z’s STEM career goals

Creating a STEM pipeline—particularly for underrepresented students—is about more than earning a salary
By: | March 11, 2020
Generation Z STEM guru Justin Shaifer's FETC keynote highlighted that a majority of students are envisioning STEM careers.Generation Z STEM guru Justin Shaifer's FETC keynote highlighted that a majority of students are envisioning STEM careers.

Generation Z STEM guru Justin Shaifer opened some eyes during his keynote speech at @FETC2020: Today’s K-12 students are passionate and ambitious when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math.

In fact, an overwhelming majority of today’s high school students envision careers in medicine, science and biotechnology, according to a survey done by the National Society of High School Scholars.

But for Shaifer, who says his goal is to make STEM cool, says creating a STEM pipeline—particularly for underrepresented students— is about more than earning a salary.

“A lot of people think of STEM as a series of jobs that are going to prepare people for the modern workforce, or a couple of lessons that you need to learn in the classroom,” Shaifer said in an exclusive FETC interview with District Administration.

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“The way I approach and engage kids who are from underestimated backgrounds in STEM is by helping them view STEM as a tool they can use to empower themselves and solve problems in their communities,” added Shaifer, who is also known as ‘Mr. Fascinate.’

In the High School Scholars survey of students’ career goals, STEM landed in the top 3 spots: 39% of respondents planned careers in medicine and health care; 20% wanted to go into science; and 18% hoped to pursue biology or biotechnology.

The next highest, business, was mentioned by 17% of students.

Ed tech STEM applications

In his FETC keynote, Shaifer shared apps, software, platforms and sites that engage students in STEM, including:

Shaifer also focused on how students’ access to technology required that teachers shift from traditional instructional approaches. They must now act as digital guides who vet resources for their students and help them use ed tech productively.

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“Information is everywhere,” Shaifer said. “Inspiration is not.”

To this end, he encouraged educators to let kids watch science-based magic tricks on YouTube. “If you can’t engage kids by showing them videos of these cool tricks on YouTube, then I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.

Shaifer told DA that it’s essential for teachers to make STEM fun if they expect students to pursue degrees in the field.

“A lot of the kids I work with want to get into the NBA or NFL, and they have ESPN to show them ‘Here’s the cool, glamorized version of what you can become,'” he says. “Right now, we do all sorts of fun pop-up STEM events for kids in the New York City area—we taught kids how to race drones and they’re learning how to use drones in the process, and 3D printing where they’re creating their own badges.”

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Teachers can also use students’ inherent interests to liven up STEM by hosting science rap competitions, Minecraft expos and similar events.

Shaifer also told DA that he sees a bright future in STEM for Gen Z, but that rapidly advancing technology and skills are “completely leaving behind the stagnant classroom model.”

“We have a lot of work to do in education in designing environments that are similar to work environments,” Shaifer said. “The stuff I was working on in my tech job—I did none of that stuff while in the classroom. Everything I learned on the spot, or went and watched YouTube videos and taught myself.”

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