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Living on the cutting edge

Local STEM group leads discussion on today’s world and its future

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March 21st, 2014
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According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, occupations within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are growing at a rate of 17%, while other skilled occupations lag behind with a growth of 9.8%.

Science Pioneering magazine reports that professionals within the STEM fields “are in charge of solving the complex problems of today’s world and its future, including finding solutions to global warming, cancer, third world hunger, disappearing habitats, and an interdependent world economy.”

At Ponds, an Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., more than 50 community members, many of whom are pioneers in STEM fields, meet monthly to discuss current events and share their vast knowledge.

“Upon moving to Ashby Ponds, I was pleasantly surprised to find many residents who had a continuing interest in technical fields and were eager to talk about their areas of expertise,” says Robert Squire, founder of the Ashby Ponds STEM group.

Powerful particle

“The triggering event leading to the formation of the STEM group was the July 4, 2012, announcement by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, of the discovery of the particle known as the Higgs boson,” says Robert.

Given the controversial nickname the “God particle,” the Higgs boson is the elusive particle responsible for all the mass in the universe. Without the boson, the universe would have no physical matter, only energy. The discovery marked a new chapter in scientific knowledge and reignited debate over the universe’s origins.

“I followed this search for many years,” says Robert. “I wrote a short explanation of its importance and meaning, and circulated it to several people whom I thought would be interested.”

Robert then held a meeting to determine whether residents at Ashby Ponds were interested in a group devoted to exploring technical and scientific subjects. 

“More than 50 residents attended that first meeting,” says Robert. “We decided to continue to meet monthly. Our purpose is to provide residents the opportunity to present talks relevant to their professional lives and/or current interest. All of our meetings are open to the entire community.”

Recent meeting topics include “The Yucca Flats Nuclear Storage Facility,” “The Three Mile Island Nuclear Event,” “Aeronautical Research at the Patuxent Naval Air Station,” and “DNA: Life’s Master Blue Print.” 

Each talk is followed by a question-and-answer period and, many times, a written transcript is offered to attendees.

Reaching out

Last November, the Ashby Ponds STEM group reached out beyond the community to address the importance of STEM education in local schools.

As a member of the Arlington County Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee on Career, Technology, and Adult Education, Ashby Ponds community member Polly Liss organized a panel of Northern Virginia educators from Arlington County, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, and Loudoun County Public Schools to discuss the STEM programs in their schools and school districts.

More than 90 Ashby Ponds community members attended the event.

“We have so many former educators and professionals in STEM fields here at Ashby Ponds,” says Polly. “I knew they would appreciate learning about what is happening currently in schools. And hopefully they will share with students the many advantages of looking into STEM fields.

“I also hope that by bringing in speakers from four different Virginia school districts to hear one another, seeds may be planted for future collaborations.”

To help plant those seeds, the panel discussion was videotaped, and copies were sent to each of the panelists. Copies were also sent to David Foster, president of the Virginia State Board of Education, Jennifer Wexton, newly elected to the State Senate, and several educators.

Lasting impact

Members of the Ashby Ponds STEM group hope that the results of their meetings and the November panel discussion are far reaching.

According to the National Math and Science Initiative, the U.S. is expected to have more than 8.6 million STEM-related jobs available in 2018, but as many as 3 million of those jobs may be unfilled.

“I would like to follow up this panel with a panel made up of local colleges and universities with the purpose of addressing the articulation of STEM emphasis from high school to postsecondary education and newly incorporated or considered curriculum changes recognizing new needs in the workforce,” says Polly.

In the meantime, the Ashby Ponds STEM group will continue to hold monthly meetings addressing timely topics, including “The History of Math,” “The Health of Planet Earth,” and “Artificial Intelligence: the Future of Computers.”

“The STEM group provides a wonderful opportunity to not only learn about the many different occupations of my neighbors but also about the impact of their work on different phases of our society,” says Polly. “It’s exciting to see what can be accomplished through the sharing of thoughts and ideas.”

 

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