STEMtimidation and Cady Coleman

How to guide kids to talk to a STEM professional

Cadycoleman

“To Claire, we are going to need more astronauts”

 These are the words that Cady Coleman wrote on the autographed picture that was given to me in grade school. The picture has graced the walls of my childhood bedroom as I dreamed of becoming an astronaut like herself, then in college as I pursued my degree in Aerospace Engineering, and now in the office at my home where I am raising my daughters to dream big and be inspired by people like her.

In many ways, her words were prophetic. Yes, we need more people pursuing STEM fields, and becoming an astronaut is on that list! But more pointedly, it was as if she wrote, “Claire, we need more astronauts and other STEM professionals, so what are you going to do about it?” We are all in this together. It isn’t a “teacher problem” or “student problem”. It is a human initiative. A call for everyone to be thinkers and doers. When the United States patent office almost closed in 1899, they believed that everything that could be invented, already had been.  Look how far we have come since! I fear that we may be headed towards a plateau in the advancement of our society here in the United States if we don’t inspire a culture shift. This fear has been echoed by government officials, educators, and innovators alike. But what are you going to do about it?

The autographed picture of Cady Coleman was given to me by a family friend who knew that I wanted to be an astronaut (actually, I would still love to!). The friend had expressed my desire to Cady who then gave me her phone number and email to contact her – information that I still have on a business card that rests on her picture.  I immediately reached out to Cady and asked her a list of questions about what she had learned in her education and career journey and how I could follow in her footsteps or even blaze my own trail to reach our common goal! Well, I wish that is what had happened. Sadly, I never gave her a call and I never wrote her an email. I only preserved the opportunity until I would have “the right questions” or maybe believed I had the courage to follow through with whatever advice she would have given, so as not to disappoint her. No one wants to disappoint a hero. Her impressive resume includes holding doctorates in polymer science and engineering, a retired officer in the United States Air Force, an extensive list of accomplishments at NASA as an astronaut, Chief of Robotics, and much more. She even plays the flute like me! But as a little kid, that impressive resume was intimidating. Could I ever do all of that? Maybe if I talked to her I would learn for certain that her life really wasn’t for me.

Last month, the brilliant women’s story site MAKERS hosted a live chat on twitter where Cady answered questions tweeted with the hashtag #AskCady. It was a great opportunity for kids and adults alike to get live feedback about all things space, science, education and life from an accomplished female astronaut’s perspective. I really admire all of Cady Coleman’s accomplishments, but it her genuine wisdom and enthusiasm to help out the next generation that makes her a STEM hero in my book. A few of my favorite gems from the #AskCady chat include:

Q: How early should parents entice their kids to a STEM career? What would be your advice for us as parents?
A: “Kids are natural scientists! Encourage them – let them ask questions & make a mess! NASA.gov has great stuff”

Q: Any advice for young people who are aspiring to be astronauts?
A: “Study what you love – not what you think you should love. We’ll need all of it on #JourneyToMars!”

Q: Cady, How do we get the current generation excited about space flight?
A: “Every single one of us needs to do our part – and realize that it matters. Every bit.”

Q: How important is science and technology education for children from the #ISS, like the lessons of #ChristaMcAullife?
A: “Essential. I don’t care if you ‘like’ math and science. WE NEED IT to save the planet and make almost all decisions!”

There has been a national call to get kids more interested in STEM and to pursue STEM careers. Great steps have been taken to provide mentors to these kids and I believe this is HUGE! Kids need STEM heroes, like Cady Coleman, who are living successful lives in STEM fields to reach back to them and show them the steps to get there. A big piece of that puzzle, however, is showing kids how to reach forward to those STEM professionals—who to talk to, what questions they should ask, and how to stay in contact with the professionals to make the most of the relationship.  I love getting asked questions about my education and career choices and I know most professionals in STEM are more than willing to do the same. STEM professionals can improve self-confidence by breaking down stereotypes and making a career more relatable to the student. However, starting a conversation with a STEM professional can seem difficult to students who are embarrassed about questions to ask or shy about approaching a professional. Let’s help kids not be intimidated to take the first steps in their STEM journey.

In hopes of encouraging more students to reach out, Vivify has created a free list of questions intended to guide a student through a conversation that will help him or her understand more about the professional’s career and what it takes to get there. In this packet there are also instructions for educators in how to use the interview questions to motivate their students as well as make it a learning experience for the whole class about different STEM careers.

 

Head over to our TpT shop for this freebie to help kids talk to a STEM professional.