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Promoting STEM to youth tops the agenda as the National Technical Association’s annual conference comes to cleveland state

By Harriet Tramer  |  Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

Since Charles Sumner Duke, the first African American to earn a Harvard engineering degree, established the National Technical Association in 1925, the organization has evolved into an impressive network of scientists, engineers, and other professionals.

NTA’s ongoing growth will be celebrated at its 86th Annual National Conference and STEM Career Fair in Cleveland from Sept. 24-26. Lancert Foster, a NASA aeronautical space engineer who currently heads NTA, says that the expansion of its membership is possibly less significant than is the progression of its mission. 

NTA has long been involved in promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers and education for underrepresented groups, such as African-Americans, Hispanics, and women. That said, Foster says the entire country is underrepresented in these fields. By his accounting, NTA is working to rectify this oversight so the United States can compete economically with nations, such China, Japan, and India, where a higher percentage of the population holds STEM positions. 

“Americans celebrate athletes and entertainers,” Foster says. “So that is what our youths aspire to become. They do not think that a STEM position might be for them, and a pipeline that would prepare them for these positions has not been established. NTA is trying to build that pipeline through its programs in middle schools and high schools that promote math and science literacy.”

In discussing the importance of these programs – a Robotics League and “Mathletics” — Foster notes that math education is cumulative. You cannot just stop at one point – for example, with algebra – and pick up at another point farther down the educational progression when the opportunity arises. So, people say that “I am not good” at math when really they may never have an opportunity to let their talents in this area flourish.

NTA is trying to build that pipeline (to STEM) through its programs in middle schools and high schools that promote math and science literacy.

“Computational Thinking for a STEM Future” will be the theme of the upcoming conference. And Foster thinks that these six words send a strong message as they express the rise of information technology, which has made computational tools an essential aspect of virtually anybody’s career path. 

Professionals, such as Greg Robinson, deputy center director for NASA Glenn Research Center, will be participating in the conference. But the STEM Career Fair, which will be held at Cleveland State University, remains the highlight of the three-day event, Foster says. It will give STEM students an opportunity to link with representatives of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Rockwell Automation, NASA, and other local employers.

“At the end of the day, there is morality and then there is economics, and people do have to earn a living,” Foster says. “And that is why it is so vital that young people have a chance to meet with professionals who can give them a boost in their career. That is what this conference is all about.”  

For more information: ntacleveland.org

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