Estimates show that by 2023, there will be two jobs available in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for every graduating student in the country. Unfortunately, statistics also show that only 2.4 percent of American students are currently seeking degrees in those areas and of that small percentage, only 12 percent are women.
Some educators believe that unless more American students are encouraged to seek out those areas of knowledge, those jobs will be exported or employers will seek candidates from overseas to fill them.
For this reason, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has teamed by with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce to provide a program that would encourage students to seek career paths in these areas.
Students from Jersey City Middle School No. 7 got together for four days in mid-July to learn how to build robots. This was part of the goIT Student Technology Program which provided the students with the tools and advice.
Balaji Ganapathy, who heads World Force Effectiveness for North America, said the company’s initiative is about providing the skills for the next generation of workers who need to have the skills to meet the demands of the evolving technological landscape.
Students involved in the program participate in computer science awareness workshops during the school year as well as a hands-on technical summer camp aimed at developing student interest in technology.
This year the program was expanded to include Jersey City. One program took place earlier during the school year. The summer camp focused on robotics and concluded with a robotic competition.
“The idea was to make it fun for them, which might inspire them to continue on with it later.” – Surjeet Mishra said.
The goIT program started six years ago. It is a student technology awareness program designed to address the growing skills gap in STEM fields for middle and high school students.
“This is something important as a company and a nation,” Ganapathy said. “These are some of the highest paying jobs in the market.”
He said gender inequality is very evident in this area, since so few female students enter these high-paying careers.
“We are looking to address this on a national level,” he said. “We think that it is important to start teaching things early and to engage students, teachers and their parents early.”
During the school year, the company held a six week session from May into June at Middle School No. 4 in Jersey City.
The company has a strong history of philanthropic involvement, and did a number of studies that included areas like health, the environment and education.
“Being one of the leaders in technology,” he said, “we are concerned with the whole market, and noticed that the number of students interested in STEM has stagnated over the last 10 years, even though that is where the job growth is.”
The company uses its own employees as mentors to help inspire interest in STEM.
“We are doing this in 10 cities across the nation this year,” he said.
He said companies should be engaging students from an early age to encourage an interest in STEM-related careers.
Each day a new lesson learned
Surjeet Mishra, technical consultant for TCS, said they go to schools to try to get students interested in technology, math and science.
“The idea was to make it fun for them, which might inspire them to continue on with it later,” Mishra said.
The summer camp had four sessions, training the students how to construct a robot and then how to program it in order to compete in a race. There were about 15 to 20 kids in the program, with about five in each team.
The half day program was designed to give the students a taste of technology and combine the various disciplines needed to make it work. The kids come in and build the robots from Lego-like pieces, a process he said takes about two hours.
“This gives them ownership,” Mishra said.
There is one adult for every five kids who construct, then program the robot to compete.
“They work in a group and build it as a team,” he said.
Teammates work to make sure the vehicle works right and that the programming does what it is supposed to do.
The robot has color sensors, which the kids must program in order for it to follow the course. Done wrong, the robot may simply spin around in circle or go off to crash into a book shelf. Each robot is about the size of a hardcover text book. The second day, the kids learn basic computer coding. They learn to input the instructions into the computer that will direct the robot later during the competition. The robots have to follow a red line on a track that is several yards long and wide. The line curves one way and then the other.
“This is not just about speed, but also accuracy,” he said.
Pamela Rodriguez of TCS said the IT people come from local offices and usually live in the area. Mishra is from Bayonne and works out of an office in the Newport section of Jersey City. All instructors get trained to teach.
A team effort
Juan Arcos, Jesus Rodriquez, Joseph Garcia and Jay Bato were part of one team.
“It took us about two hours to build the robot,” Arcos said.
The idea, Rodriguez said, was to get the robot to follow the red line.
“The car has sensors,” he said. “We got on the website and we told it what we want it to do.”
A wire is connected from the rear of the robot to the computer.
“We tell the computer what we want it to do,” Garcia said.
This means telling the computer what color they want it to recognize, and then they test the vehicle before they actually put it into competition.
Bato said they are currently behind the leaders, but working to catch up.
“We lost points if it goes off course,” Garcia said. “Programming is the hardest part.”
Donna Custard, vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said they made the connection because it is essential that middle and high school students get these skills.
“This is where the future is,” she said “Whether they go into jobs after high school or higher education, these are the skills are being sought.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.