Happy National STEAM Day! Today is meant to inspire children to explore and pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
STEAM is an educational approach that focuses on those five learning areas to inspire kids’ creative and critical thinking. It has helped foster our nation’s innovators, educators, leaders and learners – myself included – and pushed them to take thoughtful risks, embrace collaboration, and drive American technical and cultural advancement. Most of the Labor Department’s predicted fastest-growing occupations are STEAM careers. Opening the door to education and opportunities in these fields at an early age primes students for success in their future careers – I say that speaking from personal experience.
Growing up, I was the youngest in a family of six, living in a small blue-collar steel mill town in northwest Indiana. I was fortunate enough to have an uncle who recognized that computers were going to be an important part of our world in the future. He gave my family a home computer – the Commodore VIC20 – for Christmas in 1980, when I was just five years old. I was fascinated with how it worked, but in 1982 when we upgraded to a Commodore 64, I really fell in love.
I wanted to understand all the ins-and-outs of the technology and started spending countless hours studying the computer more deeply. I would buy copies of Byte magazine to read about the in-depth, technical details of the computer machine. My first “hack” was programming the text to speech synthesizer named SAM into the computer so I could make it talk like the computer from the movie War Games. I was involved in the computer club at school, too, but it was activities like defeating copy protection on Commodore games that stoked most of my early technology passions.
Additionally, I was fueled by those who told me “you can’t do that,” or “it won’t work like that,” when I was tinkering around on the computer. I was determined to achieve the impossible. I also had some wonderful people in my life encouraging me to push my capabilities and stretch my mind. Mr. Coza, Mrs. Hetzler and Mr. Bunn played instrumental roles in my education from elementary school through high school, which made me a stronger person and employee as a result.
Now, as Vice President of IT Systems of Businessolver, I’m responsible for deeply understanding our technology, as well as practicing “hacks” to keep our software systems secure. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had growing up to learn about and work on computers. It instilled in me a lifelong passion for technology, inspired my career, and gave me a leg up when entering the workforce.
I can say without a doubt that it’s critical to encourage and inspire the next generation of technologists, engineers, mathematicians, and artistic thinkers through a holistic education focused on STEAM subjects. Your organization can get involved by volunteering with a local STEAM organization for educational programs, such as Tech Journey in Des Moines, or participating in a 5K that supports STEAM education, like the StemStep5K in Chicago. We need to commit to using today to inspire tomorrow’s innovators; there’s no better way to support their success than by championing their education.
Tom Pohl teaching his nephew about computers.