Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

September 26, 2016 OTHER VOICES

Why our students need to embrace STEM now

Bob Sobolewski

The talent pipeline for science, technology and advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States needs an enormous boost of interested kids —  and fast.

By 2018, we may be short as many as 3 million high-skilled workers, according to a study released by the National Math+Science Initiative, which examines the crisis of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education in America.

Our competitive edge as a nation has sharply eroded over the last decade. Unfortunately, I witnessed this firsthand as CEO of a multinational manufacturing company.

If you are looking to fill jobs, you understand the challenges associated with finding well-trained and prepared talent from the pool of candidates available today in the U.S. Simple tasks such as finding a CNC machine operator, trained welders, or properly educated mechanical engineers have become difficult. And that's despite the fact that all of these can be lucrative and fulfilling careers for the right people.

I have often wondered why one of the most powerful and innovative nations in the world ranks so low in the quality of math and science education. The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 48th in those fields of study by the way. How did we allow this to happen?

As a nation, we need to continue to augment our education system with experiential learning and teambuilding activities outside the classroom. This is why I decided to step up and do my part in changing how we educate our kids. IngenuityNE Inc. is a not-for-profit public charity born out of my desire to help support research and STEM-focused programs here in New England.

Honestly, I got tired of reading about kids not interested in STEM. Our kids here are smart. They just need to realize the many life lessons they can be exposed to while building competitive robots and constructing projects with LEGOs.

We aligned with FIRST, one of the leading sources of STEM inspiration and competitive fun for young people, to form the New England District made up of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts New Hampshire and Vermont.

Founded in 1989, FIRST entices our future workforce with mentor-based, research and robotics programs so they can witness firsthand the benefits of science and technology careers. The FIRST program had more than 400,000 youth participants in 2015-16, with more than 200,000 mentors, coaches, judges and volunteers in 80-plus countries.

The impact of FIRST has been astounding, according to a 10-year analysis of its evaluation data led by Brandeis University. Not only are FIRST participants more likely to major in science or engineering fields, they also gained significant 21st century work-life skills critical for their future success in the workforce:

• 98 percent improved problem-solving skills;

• 95 percent increased time management skills;

• 93 percent increased conflict resolution skills;

• 76 percent strengthened communication skills.

So how can you get involved in this movement toward enriching much needed STEM education?

The first step is awareness and communication. We need to openly talk about the STEM crisis in our nation and be willing to do something about it. Real change will occur out of necessity to keep growing and properly educating the talent pool for the future.

Business leaders and companies can:

• Financially support scholarships for NE FIRST students;

• Sponsor regional competitions throughout Connecticut and New England;

• Provide guidance and mentorship to students in grades K-12;

• Donate supplies and materials for the competitions;

• Create STEM advocates among your workforce;

• Encourage schools across New England to become involved with STEM-focused programs.

We can't allow this STEM crisis to continue to escalate, especially here in Connecticut. We need to offer engaging, fun and inspiring opportunities so our future leaders can follow a path that builds a stronger, more vibrant economy and rebuilds our competitive edge as a state and a nation. The time is absolutely now. Are you up to the challenge?

To learn more about FIRST in New England, visit

To learn more about the FIRST international efforts, visit

Bob Sobolewski is a 30-year business veteran who headed up the U.S. division of the multinational manufacturer, ebm-papst Inc., before retiring and starting a change-management consulting business. Sobolewski is chair of the CBIA board of directors and in 2012 founded ingenuityNE, a not-for-profit public charity to create interest and excitement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) among K-12 students in New England.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF