Written by Barbara Toombs
Science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, permeate nearly every aspect of life today – particularly the cars we drive. Currently, however, the United States suffers from a deficit of scientific innovators, with the demand for these professionals far outpacing the supply.
“The nation is in a STEM crisis,” admits Lori Gatmaitan, director of the SAE Foundation. Actually, it’s a crisis that has been a long time in the making. The Foundation was formed back in 1986 by SAE International to support science and technology education, which was in peril back then. During the past 30 years, the SAE Foundation’s initial efforts have “exploded,” as Gatmaitan puts it, into SAE’s comprehensive kindergarten through college STEM education curriculum.
Needless to say, the nation’s automakers and others in the automotive industry are doing all they can to help the cause. “Our relationships with today’s automakers is strong,” says Gatmaitan. “They are involved in all levels of SAE’s STEM education programs, helping to inspire 5-year-olds in kindergarten all the way to recruiting undergraduate and graduate students through SAE’s Collegiate Design Series.” SAE has also placed over 30,000 volunteers in the classroom, most of those representing OEMs and automotive industry suppliers.
It was General Motors who first brought the SAE Foundation to the attention of collection car enthusiasts when, at the 2013 Reno Tahoe Auction, they donated the first retail production 2014 Cadillac CTS V-Sport to be sold to benefit the Foundation. The car was purchased by businessman Tim Whited, who now is a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, where he is able to contribute in many ways to the Foundation’s support of STEM education.
This year, General Motors funded the development of the curricular for SAE’s first A World In Motion (AWIM) IT program focused on cybersecurity, in which – among other things – students will explore network security regarding self-driving cars from a fictional car company. The program is one of a number of initiatives GM is taking to ignite more interest in STEM careers. FCA (which includes Fiat, Chrysler and Dodge) has also thrown its support behind AWIM, which they note will help inspire and educate nearly 3,000 elementary and middle school students by teaching them critical math and science concepts in a hands-on, interactive program – while exposing them to the possibilities that exist in STEM-related careers.
Ford Motor Company efforts are known as “STEAM” rather than STEM, saying that adding the “A” for Art sparks the creative right brain along with the logical left brain and keeping all avenues to inventive thinking wide open. Ford has eight different STEAM initiatives, ranging from sponsoring robotics teams in a K-12 competition, through a national network of high school career academies, to several college programs – including the Ford College Alliance, which is a national network that supports student-led vehicle teams and scholarship opportunities.
Barrett-Jackson’s valued partners at Shell and Shell Lubricants also champion a number of STEM education initiatives. Shell Lubricants supports Universal Technical Institute and its associated Tech Force Foundation by supplying products for use in class and lab training, marketing efforts and valuable scholarship money for core and advanced training of automotive and diesel technology students. Other efforts include the global Shell Eco-marathon competition and the Best in Class (BIC) Quaker State high school competition in the United States.
The winner of the 2016 BIC competition – a 1996 Ford Mustang built by students at Jordan Vocational High School in Columbus, Georgia – generated a total of $135,000 for future automotive engineers and designers by being auctioned at Barrett-Jackson. “At Shell, we believe we have an obligation to support the passion of car enthusiasts, including training,” says Nancy Bruner, Director, North America Influence Strategy & Engagement for Shell Lubricants. “We have an obligation to help keep the pipeline full with qualified automotive and diesel technicians who are hired by the industry.”
Shell also partnered with SEMA Garage and the SEMA Foundation to support the Underdog project initiative, which saw actor Sung Kang of “Fast and the Furious” movie fame work with a team of aspiring young automotive technicians from Alhambra High School in California to transform a 1972 Ford Maverick. The custom car, which debuted at the 2016 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, crossed the block at the 2017 Las Vegas Auction, generating $95,000 in scholarship money for the SEMA Foundation.
SEMA has long been involved in scholarship programs and student programs, and is piloting two new efforts built around STEM development. One is a collaboration with the Santa Fe Early College Opportunities (ECO) Applied Science Magnet School’s auto tech program, which features extensive automotive training, involving youth engagement and exposure to automotive career paths. The other is the SEMA Custom Car Experience, which aims to inspire youth to participate in the automotive customization lifestyle by promoting or creating hands-on and virtual experiences.
“STEM-based learning is everywhere and shapes our everyday experiences,” says Zane Clark, Senior Director of Education with SEMA. “Our goal at SEMA is to make sure that those experiences include exposure to the automotive world – planting the seed for a lifelong passion.”