Dave Cadogan from ILC Dover on STEM in Delaware

Dave Cadogan – ILC Dover

Delaware companies do a lot to support STEM education. However, industry and education need to find better ways to work together more effectively in order to create a stronger future for Delaware.  Elevating the STEM proficiency of the workforce, from the production floor to the managerial level, has a direct correlation to the performance of individual companies.   Having employees with deeper STEM capabilities translates into improved work efficiency, enhanced problem solving, and therefore improved profitability.   Industry has the knowledge, financial resources, and people with a strong desire to support education, to help with this mission.  The real question is how best to do this?  There are hundreds of excellent STEM education programs in practice.  Each one touches some number of students in a positive way and therefore justifies its existence.  However, it is difficult to tell which program, approach, method, or focus area yields the greatest return on investment (ROI).  The answer to this question can be used to help guide industry’s involvement and demonstrate a high ROI to its management and owners in such a way as to invite continued or greater investment.  Conclusive data to support any hypothesis is scarce.  If you know someone who is looking for an impactful Masters or Doctoral thesis topic, this is it.

Industry currently supports education in many ways including grants, mentoring, scholarships, classroom visits, team project support, afterschool program support, etc.  My employer, ILC Dover, has supported education initiatives for decades.  Much of our engagement has centered on using the space suit, which we design and manufacture for NASA, as an educational tool to explain scientific principles.   We have a dedicated group of people who regularly visit classrooms and support community outreach events.  Everyone we visit loves to see the space suit and hear stories about space exploration, so, for those audiences, it makes STEM learning interesting.  However, as a leader in industry in Delaware, we are always looking for better ways to support STEM education and strengthen our future workforce.

Several years ago ILC was contacted by Mr. John Moyer, who then managed teacher training for the Department of Education, asking if we could support science refresher training by showing examples of work we did that overlapped with energy principles.  We constructed a half-day program which related many of our products (space suits, airships, airbags, etc.) and methods of manufacture (fabric welding, laser cutting, infrared cameras, etc.) to energy.  We assembled a PowerPoint presentation the participants could keep to share with their classes which had as many hands-on examples we could dream up to guide the training.  Examples included things such as the energy transference when the Mars Exploration Rover airbags hit the surface, how the resistance of pressurized space suit joints require energy to operate, and how radio-frequency energy can be used to weld polymer coated fabrics in aerostats.   A group of approximately 25 teachers visited ILC’s facility to participate in an interactive lecture and tour of the plant.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  The teachers left excited, engaged, and anxious to take real-world examples back into the classroom.  We repeated the training event two consecutive years after the initial event with the same result each time.  It is impossible to know the true impact of these events on students’ learning because no metrics were kept and meaningful measurement would be very difficult.  However, the teachers stated that their knowledge was increased and their level of excitement for the subject was enhanced.  The bottom line result was that a small effort was exerted by industry to help train teachers who could then become catalysts by bringing that information and excitement to multiple classrooms of students in a repeated fashion.  The effect of the interaction is multiplicative as one teacher will teach several classrooms of 20-30 students per semester, and then over successive years.

Personally and professionally I found the teacher training experience to be enlightening.  Not only could it help bring real-world examples into the classroom to inspire engagement and learning, but it also added a dimension to ways industry could help support education.  The ROI of this activity, if formalized and expanded could be significant enough to attract broad industry involvement and enhance STEM teaching effectiveness.  This is a starting point that could be refined in practice but appears to compare well against other methods of engagement when considering potential impact on learning with cost of implementation.

stem education initiative cost vs impact ILC Dover Image

This chart was constructed by members of the Delaware Foundation for Math & Science Education (DFSME) and the Delaware STEM Council in an attempt to understand the ROI of some of the approaches for collaboration between industry and the education community.  The placement of the bubbles is not supported by hard data, so their locations may be significantly different in reality.  However, the table was constructed with empirical data from conversations with people in industry and academia.  It is important to note that a tool like this does not suggest that any of the action areas are without merit, but rather where an enhancement initiative might be targeted.  All of the action areas noted are beneficial to STEM education and should continue.

By looking at ROI it appears that teacher training initiatives like the one conducted at ILC Dover might be an interesting area of focus for expansion.  Delaware has an amazing array of accomplished companies across the state, both large and small.  It would be easy to cross-match the skill sets of Delaware’s companies to next generation science standards curriculum topics (http://www.nextgenscience.org/overview-topics) and have teachers rotate through company visits and associated training events to relate each companies experience to specific topics.  For example:

ILC Dover – Earth & Space Sciences – Space Systems

DuPont – Physical Sciences – Chemical Reactions

Air Liquide – Physical Science – Structure and Properties of Matter

Christiana Care – Life Sciences – Structure & Function

Gore – Physical Sciences – Forces & Interactions

Obviously, not every topic area in the standard curriculum could be covered in a program like this because of time constraints on educators, but many could.  Reinforcement of the topic areas most closely related to Delaware companies will only enhance the preparation of our future workforce, which in turn will help make companies more successful and improve the economy in Delaware.  A program of this nature that brings companies and educators in close collaboration could also have many collateral effects including donation of materials and equipment to schools, targeted classroom visits, expert references for teachers to engage, etc.  At some point we could even have students visit the companies in a related STEM exposure capacity.

This is an ambitious suggestion.  Undoubtedly there would be many challenges to overcome.  However, I believe that there is great benefit in drawing industry and academia closer together to enhance STEM education, and suggestions like this warrant serious conversation.  I see something for everyone in this construct including enhanced STEM education for students which could lead to brighter futures, enhanced professional growth and excitement for teachers, a better prepared future workforce for companies, and economic growth for Delaware.  This concept has been discussed with members of the Delaware STEM Council and with the Delaware Foundation for Math and Science Education.  There are lots of competing priorities at the moment, but perhaps one day Delaware will initiate a program like this to facilitate industry involvement on a scale even greater than already in place, to foster further improvement in STEM education.


Dave Cadogen the Director of Engineering & Product Development at ILC Dover, leading one of the most dedicated and capable softgoods development teams in the world. Working over 30 years in the industry, and actively contributing technical solutions in the form of technology, product, and systems architecture development. He has served as a Principle Investigator or Technical Leader for numerous NASA, DoD, DARPA, and other government programs. He has authored/contributed to over 80 technical papers / book chapters, and 15 patents. He enjoys creating partnerships between ILC and other companies, universities, and government entities. His goal is to contribute something good to the world, do it effectively, and enjoy doing it.

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