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Strengthen the S.T.E.M.
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I knew the adults were upset again. I had first seen it when I was very young living in Cuba.

The Castro revolution had advanced to the Navy base perimeter and the adults were tense. Military families left Cuba shortly thereafter.

Now older, I knew the teachers were again nervous, but I didn't understand why.

The Russians had just launched Sputnik and we kids thought that was really neat. Here was this shiny sphere orbiting in space sending signals back to us on earth. Cool!

The adults saw it differently of course.

Sputnik changed my life in noticeable ways just months after it was launched. School got more intense and focused on science and math.

By the time I got to middle school I was taking biology, chemistry and multiple physical science classes. There was much more math and everyone took those classes.

In high school we had new modern labs stocked with all manner of inventory. The science teachers were the youngest amongst all our teachers and they made those classes fun.

I went on to get a science degree in college during the ending days of the Apollo mission era.

My university graduated hundreds of scientists, engineers and mathematicians. We got good paying jobs doing things we loved.

Today there is little sincere interest in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in K-12.

It is not like it used to be with multitudes of students filling labs, joining engineering clubs and preparing for regional competitions.

S.T.E.M. was strongly supported back in the day because it was considered in the best national interest.

Today firms such as the one I spent my professional life working for are having a very hard time finding good S.T.E.M. trained graduates to hire.

Colleges are reducing their S.T.E.M. programs due to lack of interest and those that retain their programs find the classes full of foreign exchange students.

If this country's economic future is so dependent on our technology then it is still in our national interest to better support our S.T.E.M. programs in K-12.

Interest and knowledge starts at a very early age. One does not learn science overnight or in an infrequently offered single semester class. American industries that revolve around science and technology have started lobbying for more S.T.E.M. funding, more qualified and engaged S.T.E.M. teachers and for educational administrators to truly support S.T.E.M. programs even at the elementary school level. Those firms are backing that effort with funding to such programs.

We all use technology more than ever yet we seem to think technology just happens.

Our cell phones, televisions and entire military utilize satellites that evolved from that original Sputnik device. Can we continue to risk falling behind in that evolutionary process?

U.S. school systems are measurably farther behind other countries in S.T.E.M. education. It is most assuredly in our national interest to change that situation now and it starts with a true commitment to first improve S.T.E.M. education at the state and local level.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.