Right now, the world’s STEM leaders are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.
The need for more science, technology, engineering, and math talent has never been more obvious than today. With the world facing a pandemic, we need scientists to develop vaccines, medical professionals to treat the sick, engineers to invent and build supporting equipment, and technologists to keep businesses moving and people connected when we can’t be together.
The pandemic has proven that careers in the STEM fields are crucial to successful communities. However, another effect of coronavirus has been remote learning’s limit on students’ exposure to the STEM fields. They’ve been removed from the traditional paths and experiences that expose them to STEM careers and engage them in STEM learning.
If you are a student, chances are your summer or fall plans did not go as expected or hoped. But that doesn’t make STEM internships any less important.
That’s why we need to ensure STEM education opportunities stay alive and meaningful – even amid our unpredictable times. Students need to make the connection between exciting STEM careers and the impact they have on the world. Through thoughtful, high dosage internships and experiential learning, organizations can help students gain the skills and confidence they need to pursue STEM roles.
Meaningful STEM Learning
The coronavirus pandemic is the first time many young people in the United States have collectively experienced an event that impacts the entire world. The virus has had many repercussions for them, including interrupting their school routines and taking them away from STEM role models and hands-on learning experiences.
But just because there’s a new normal when it comes to school and education doesn’t mean we can’t be creative to fill this void. We can expose and engage students in the hands-on and virtual learning experiences that will inspire them and build their confidence to pursue STEM careers, drawing a direct connection between exciting work, and making a real difference.
So how do we successfully ensure young people have early and often exposure to engaging and realistic work experiences, especially with the cancellation of so many in-person learning opportunities?
Research shows that one-time or limited engagements don’t instill a lifelong interest in STEM topics or careers. According to STEMconnector’s Roadmap to Results report, organizations need to consider the dosage, duration, and frequency with which they are investing in these experiences.
“Dosage is a combination of duration (how long) and frequency (how often). Researchers studying STEM outcomes, particularly in education and learning in the K-12 years, have highlighted dosage as a consideration. Higher dosage typically, although not always, yields greater impact,” the report states.
These higher dosage experiences can take many forms including experiential learning, internships, and in our current environment, even ongoing virtual programs.
Keeping the Internship Experience Impactful
Prime examples of successful programs making the switch from in-person to virtual are the award-winning Abbott high school and college internships. Heading into summer 2020, Abbott knew that despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, they could not cancel their summer internships.
As a company at the forefront of helping the world take on the virus, they needed their interns more than ever. That’s because Abbott hires about 60% of their college interns each year. Meanwhile, for students, the loss of internships meant not only a hit to potential income, but also missing out on networking, coaching, and skill-building experiences.
Abbott executives knew they needed to do more to create a meaningful online experience than just provide a virtual class. They ensured a robust internship program by:
- Building a proprietary intern app to support networking and connections
- Shipping physical materials to support the interns’ success
- Assigning interns to “peer buddy” groups where they were able to meet with other interns and a coach
- Providing access to senior Abbott leaders through live sessions and interactions
The goal was to create a virtual experience that mirrored the internships’ hands-on learning enough that students felt connected to the organization and work. While it’s too early to gauge the long-term effects of such virtual experiences, Abbott took the responsibility of actively engaging the future STEM workforce seriously despite the challenges of today’s world.
By securing these kinds of thoughtful internships and experiential learning, students can stay on the path to meaningful STEM careers, and perhaps become the role models the world needs the next time we are in crisis.