STEM Underground

Guest blog by Kurt Moser, Earth Force Senior Program Manager

To dig deep into the topics of sustainability and STEM, as with any significant excavation, we would be wise to first dial 811. Even if you haven’t called “Miss Utility” before, you might recognize the spray-painted street art as indicative of digging about to take place nearby. It is a reminder that much of the infrastructure we depend upon in daily life is invisible to us, hidden underground.

You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the value of drinkable water, electricity, communications networks, home heating and cooling, sanitary sewerage, and other modern conveniences, yet much of the infrastructure that makes these amenities possible is hidden, out of sight and out of mind. It is a testimony to the work of engineers that we can be so unaware of the systems that support us.

It’s easy to take these systems for granted and to forget their environmental significance. How many of us understand what it means environmentally when we take a hot shower–using potable water? How many of us know what the American Society of Civil Engineers means when it says our infrastructure earns a grade of D-plus? These questions are at the nexus of STEM and sustainability.

STEM education is where we will develop the next generation of engineers, scientists, and technological problem-solvers – and we will need them; we are still living largely on the infrastructure of the 1950’s, and will soon need infrastructure for the 21st century. But STEM education is also essential for the next generation of policymakers, voters, and citizens; they must be prepared to make the necessary decisions and investments to make goods and services in the 21st century possible and sustainable for generations to come.

In the Promoting Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship through STEM pathway, we explore how STEM and environmental learning support one another by investigating practical application and partnership-building. We’ll find out how Western Kentucky University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration address STEM from the perspective of ecology, with examples of real-world applications. We’ll see how United States Department of Agriculture and 4H use community mapping to provide students with a connection to place and how partnerships in organizations like the DC Environmental Education Consortium bridge STEM, sustainability, and environmental literacy goals. Pathway participants will come away with a clearer understanding of how environmental STEM prepares today’s students for career, college, and citizenship.

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