Five Qs: Jason Lee on Promoting STEMM for Today’s Youth

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The Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program today will honor five local professionals during the Third Annual Real McCoy Awards. Jason Lee, executive director of the organization, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the importance of recognizing those who work in STEMM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine) for today’s youth.

1. DDN: Would you say that tonight’s honorees wouldn’t normally receive recognition for their accomplishments?

JL: I think that’s true for the STEMM community in general. Those in these technical fields oftentimes are (so focused on their work) or just don’t have community connectivity around what their work is all about it. And it’s important that they be recognized. (Our organization) is working with 4,000 young people in southeast Michigan this year and the Real McCoy Awards is a way for us to connect these professionals to our young people.

2. DDN: How so?

JL: We want to provide a foundation for excellence in STEMM fields, so we work with people at a very early age to get them exposed to these areas as early as possible. Right now, we have programming that goes all of the way from Pre-K to 12th grade. And this may (prompt them) to say, “I can do this. I can see (honorees) Eric Hardy or Trachette Jackson, and I can be like them.”

3. DDN: How do you make career paths relevant to today’s young people?

JL: One of the things we do is work with the University of Detroit Mercy to provide educational programming for our fourth and fifth grade classes, which are very exciting. One is called forensic science. The kids are given a mystery, a who-done-it, kind of like Clue. But the clues that they have to acquire to solve the mystery are actually based off scientific principles. So they’re doing measurements, they’re looking at blood splatters. And at the end of the class, the kids get a chance to reveal who did it. And you can oftentimes hear cheering on the second floor (where they’re presenting), when the kids are finding out of they’re right or wrong.

4. DDN: What other new classes or programs do you offer?

JL: We’ve added quite a few to our Saturday program opportunities. We’re working with a group called Kidpreneur, which is teaching kids how to write computer code and (build apps), things of that nature. We also have a class with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, where we expose young people to the technical side of the (company’s) business practices. It’s interesting, because a lot of what they do is very mathematically based. And it’s also in the medical field, which is a very hot industry right now. These kinds of classes are about working to get kids excited about what’s happening today in the technology fields.

5. DDN: Do you collaborate with many businesses?

JL: Yes, because they realize you have to grow this talent locally. (For example), Dow Corning in Midland decided a few years ago that, considering there’s a shortage of technical professionals today, they wanted to engage young people and have them understand their business practices. So during our Saturday programming sessions, volunteers from Dow come down to Oakland University in Rochester and facilitated a class on behalf of our students. They’re exposing them to their chemical processes. And that’s huge — just giving the students that exposure is helping open eyes to what the STEMM world looks like. It brings it closer to home.

There are (many) jobs that have gone unfilled here in the state of Michigan, and many of them are associated with those STEMM fields. (Our program) is a portion of the solution to filling that (talent gap), but there’s much more we can do — and should do — for the state of Michigan. But we need that support and connectivity with the universities and the corporations and other agencies to make sure that work is being done in a large-scale manner. 

For more information about the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, or The Real McCoy Awards, visit dapcep.org.

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