STEM: It Does a Brain Good!
Growing up, I was the kid who aced every English paper. I was “fluent” in grammar and punctuation, and I could recite all my prepositions to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. (Still can!) Teachers would applaud my “gift of gab” and tout my ability to create dynamic story leads and transition seamlessly between thoughts.
What I couldn’t do was Algebra.
I struggled with geometry.
The thought of sitting through a calculus class sent shivers down my spine.
And every science class either confused me or bored me to tears.
I was told repeatedly by teachers and just about every adult in my life that I was a “right brain” so I shouldn’t stress that I couldn’t solve for X or that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects weren’t “my thing.” I’d never need this knowledge for the types of careers I’d pursue and eventually settle into.
They were completely wrong.
Nurture Versus Nature
Today, I lead Employee Engagement at Avaya, which is a fancy way of saying I communicate with employees. I write, edit and consult (my strengths!), and I’m never asked about square roots, the Periodic Table or the Pythagorean Theorem (my weaknesses). Even simple arithmetic isn’t part of my daily job (and if by chance it is, my laptop and smartphone are equipped with a calculator).
What I didn’t know back then was that STEM subjects teach us how to think … critically. We learn to look at complex problems from all angles and then put forth innovative and thoughtful solutions. This isn’t to say that I’m not thoughtful or rational, but when it comes to really understanding the financial and technical complexities of business and technology, I struggle…and in that way it does impact my career. Writing a communication from my CFO is much more difficult for me then writing for my CMO. In fact, translating earnings for employees is how I imagine that calc class to be—painful.
Settling into my comfort zone rather than forcing myself to really tackle and learn STEM subjects hinders me today, and because of that I made a commitment early on that my children wouldn’t repeat my mistakes.
Raising Whole Brain Children
Most of us have a dominant side, but that doesn’t mean the other side can’t be nurtured. In fact, it’s important that it is. To that end, my husband and I make sure we provide opportunities to all three of our children that play to their strengths but also develop their less dominant sides.
Our older son, Dylan, is a perfect mix of right (he’s a talented artist and can learn on his own any string instrument) and left (he excels in STEM), but when we noticed his writing wasn’t where it should be, he spent last summer with a tutor. Guess what? His lowest grade in Honors English this past school year was a 96, and he was placed in AP Lit for the upcoming year! Strong writing skills are something that can and should be developed. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a gift with which you’re born. It’s learned and it’s necessary. And if you love the written word, it can become a passion, career or even just mental exercise!
Ryan, our middle, is a full-on science guy so in addition to STEM camps, he takes private art and guitar lessons, and is a contributor to the school newspaper. Writing comes easy to him but he doesn’t like it. His articles are about draft picks, fantasy football and the NY Jets. But he’s writing!
Our youngest—little Miss Sienna—well, she’s a right brain if ever there were one. A voracious reader since the age of five, she’s also part of a Youth Writer’s Group in Maplewood, NJ. She gets lost for hours on end in her art, books and words. It’s amazing—all that creativity at just 10 years of age. And this week, she’s in her third STEM camp, analyzing and creatively solving real-world problems through science, technology, engineering, and math concepts. Brilliant!
What we’ve found is that all three enjoy the change of pace. They genuinely like exploring different areas and challenging themselves to think differently. Best of all, they’re racking up new and diverse experiences, which helps broaden their view of the world…wins across the board.
What do you think? Do you think STEM education is important for everyone? What about art, music and writing? Is it important to expose ourselves to areas that challenge our thinking? Would you agree that our greatest lessons and most rewarding wins come from doing so?