By Secretary Small (DNREC)
In a world of acronyms seeking relevance and recognition, STEM needs little introduction. Most of us likely associate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math as a bundle of academic disciplines being emphasized at the local, state and national levels in an effort to boost student performance, generate greater student interest in these areas and ultimately strengthen our nation’s competitiveness and position in the global economic race to the top.
Check on all the above, but we also know, with just a tad more examination, that these concepts touch and enhance our lives every second. For the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, STEM is behind every action we take. Consider our mission to protect air and water quality and public health, manage our fish, wildlife populations and special landscapes such as beaches and wetlands and provide safe, quality outdoor recreational opportunities. A few examples of how we apply STEM on any given day include determining the impacts to a stream from a wastewater treatment plant, estimating the population of blue crabs in the Delaware Bay, assessing the effects on Delaware’s air quality from a power plant in an upwind state or determining the structural integrity and load bearing capacity of an elevated trail through Cape Henlopen State Park.
Every DNREC employee uses STEM on the job, daily. We seek improved efficiency, new ways of solving recurring problems, and methods for organizing the trove of technical information we process and add to in pursuit of our mission. Employees approach every task with the mentality that they are problem solvers, analytic thinkers, and can work both independently and in project teams. Once we define the challenge through STEM, we employ the associated soft skills of communication, collaboration and management to effect change, often navigating across the dangerous intersection of policy and science. Our work, like STEM skills, is not about just what you know, but what you are able to do with the information.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is especially proud to support STEM education and workforce development through its advocacy of the Delaware Children in Nature Coalition. DNREC has been a key supporter of the Coalition since its inception in 2010; providing professional and financial assistance from multiple Divisions. The Coalition is Delaware’s “primary advocate for promoting meaningful outdoor education experiences for our youth during ‘in-school’ and ‘out-of-school’ time.” Delaware Children in Nature is committed to supporting STEM through public and youth engagement in experiential opportunities. The 27-member Coalition provides field trips, teacher trainings, public programs, schoolyard habitat construction and maintenance support, supports the Green Ribbon Schools program, promotes healthy lifestyles, and is in the final stages of releasing an Environmental Literacy Plan developed in conjunction with the Delaware Department of Education. In October 2014, the Coalition’s partners delivered STEM-related experiences across 16 sites to 219,520 people.
Please continue to support DNREC, the Delaware STEM Council, and the Delaware Children in Nature Coalition in promoting STEM education and skill development in Delaware through participation in this October’s Children in Nature Month activities. For more information, visit delawarecin.org.
The world is full of acronyms lately, with STEM being very much in the headlines. We are frequently made aware of the importance of STEM education, the future STEM workforce and its career opportunities, and how the United States lags behind the rest of the world in STEM skills. It is fair to assume that when most people hear STEM, they quickly identify with the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, but STEM truly transcends these boundaries and is symbiotically relatable to every aspect of our world.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control often associates STEM with the workplace, identifying the skills our workforce must possess to be effective and productive. These technical skills are inherent in all academic disciplines and workplaces and range from the ability to research a topic, analyze information, and draw conclusions to being able to troubleshoot a piece of equipment, repair it, and communicate the process and means for improvement to the appropriate stakeholders. While STEM workers earn higher wages and STEM occupations are projected to grow at a faster rate than non-STEM occupations, the skills needed to be successful in both are STEM-based.
STEM “soft skills” are integral to our daily lives. Skills and actions we take for granted are foundationally STEM, such as interpersonal communication and cooperation, the ability to write instructions, develop plans and timelines, and effective leadership. We constantly attempt to break complex systems and projects into smaller parts, identify relationships, and defend courses of action using factual information. STEM-proficient citizens are better communicators, collaborators, and productive, happy people.
David Small serves as Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. In this role, he serves as chief steward of Delaware’s environment – protecting and managing Delaware’s nature resources, providing quality outdoor recreation and protecting public health and safety. Sec. Small leads seven DNREC Divisions – Air Quality, Waste and Hazardous Substances, Fish and Wildlife, Parks and Recreation, Water, Watershed Stewardship, and Energy and Climate.