Perspectives: STEM — Just Another Hydro Acronym?

By Marla Barnes

In the hydroelectric industry, we love acronyms … FERC, O&M, R&D, NMFS, OSHA … and the list goes on.

Another acronym being used more and more in the hydro industry is “STEM” — in reference to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. There’s great interest in this topic, as well there should be.

In many occupations with a heavy emphasis on and requirement for knowledge/expertise in the STEM disciplines … hydroelectric power being one … significant percentages (in some cases, as much as one-half) of the workforce are nearing retirement. This means individuals educated in science, technology, engineering and math will be in great demand to fill these jobs.

— Will there be enough individuals adequately educated in these disciplines to fill these positions?
— How will the knowledge and experience in the heads of the retirees be appropriately transferred to the new generation of workforce?
— What can certain industries do to retain STEM-educated individuals in their work places?

These questions and many others are being asked not just in the hydro industry, but in North American companies in multiple industries.

In 2011, a consortium of companies, non-profit associations and professional societies, STEM-related research and policy organizations, government entities, universities and academic institutions concerned with STEM education and the future of human capital came together to form STEMconnector®. The consortium is both a resource and a service, designed to link “all things STEM” through a comprehensive website that connects national, state and local STEM entities. The STEMconnector website contains profiles of more than 20 categories of STEM-related entities and details ‘Who is Doing What’ at more than 6,000 STEM-related organizations in all 50 states.

In a quick look at the STEM directory, I found several companies listed who do work in the hydroelectric market sector — American Electric Power, Ameren, Black & Veatch, Duke Energy, Exelon, First Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and Xcel Energy, just to name a few.

While the work of STEMconnector is broad and comprehensive, closer to our “hydro” home there are also several initiatives focused on bringing attention, in one way or another, to STEM education. Cases in point:

— Hydro Fellows program, an effort by the U.S. Department of Energy and industry to help graduate-level students pursue masters and PhD programs in hydro-related fields — see page 55 for a short feature on one of these fellows
— Annual scholarship program of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) to help civil engineering students finance their education — see page 56 for this year’s winners
— A new “Women with Hydro Vision” recognition program to highlight women who are successfully working in hydro (a STEM-related industry) (fact: women hold less than 25% of the jobs in STEM fields in the U.S.) — see http://bit.ly/YpwTto for a list of the 2014 honorees
— Efforts by the Hydro Training Institute, a group of volunteer hydro professionals who’ve designed and teach an annual course, Waterpower® Hydro Basics, for individuals new to the industry or veterans who need additional training is a specific area. The two-day “hydro 101” course is held immediately preceeding HydroVision International each year. For details, see: http://bit.ly/1wR03xm.

If you know of a specific STEM-related effort or initiative, let us know about it! Over the next several issues, we’d like to share these efforts and initiatives with readers to aid in “getting the word out” and giving all of us ideas we can implement.

Don’t let “STEM” become just another acronym!

Marla J. Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor

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