Investing in the future of STEM

January 7th, 2019 / By Ryan Butterfield, DrPH, MBA, Laura Soloway, PhD, Paul LaBrec

Children are naturally curious. Society benefits when this curiosity is encouraged from a young age and developed to include scientific literacy. Why is scientific literacy important? Scientific literacy incorporates the ideas found in the scientific community and relates them to critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and thoughtful discourse. Building these skills should be central in primary and secondary education. Along with intrinsic characteristics related to scientific curiosity, we at 3M greatly value these skills.

Scientific curiosity is perhaps the most desirable trait a scientist can have. It is more important than where one went to school, as technical skills are taught well at a high percentage of universities. That inner drive that makes one yearn for scientific truths of the universe, however, is not something that can be taught using formulas, test tubes, or mathematical proofs. Rather it is intrinsic and groomed from the onset of a child’s education. Sadly, this intrinsic value can be hampered, derailed, and even deflated due to a simple lack of resources. Children need to be encouraged to explore their scientific curiosity through imaginative experimentation in a safe, controlled environment. 

Each year, 3M attempts to enrich these learning environments through a partnership with the organization Donors Choose is a crowd-sourcing platform where teachers submit classroom needs, called “projects,” and solicit funding for them. Each project a teacher submits is vetted by Donors Choose volunteers and, if approved, is posted to the website with the breakdown of actual costs. These projects range from supplying basic needs like calculators and projectors in STEM classrooms to more elaborate creative scenarios including providing environmental science tools for exploring waterways, or robotics equipment to learn how to build and run artificial intelligence systems. Once posted, the project must obtain full funding before the expiration date to be fulfilled. If a project is funded, the teacher receives the materials requested and is also given more credit towards posting another project on the site.

3M provides a budget for each plant site or state (if more than one plant exists in a given state) to fund these projects through its #3MGives campaign. The amount varies according to the plant size and previous usage. Each plant can then choose how to allocate the budget among the available projects, with the stipulation that the projects must be STEM-related and closed out with full funding by 3M. Through this program, 3M can fulfill the needs of many of these projects and bring STEM learning to children throughout the community, regardless of income, residence, or resources. You can identify 3M funded projects on social media using the flag #3MGives. We encourage you see how 3M is impacting your community.  

Ryan Butterfield, DrPH, MBA, senior researcher and statistician at 3M Health Information Systems.

Laura Soloway, PhD, senior research analyst and epidemiologist on a multidisciplinary research team within the Clinical and Economic Research group for 3M Health Information Systems.

Paul LaBrec is research director for Populations and Payment Solutions with 3M Health Information Systems.