Increasing access to STEM education and internship opportunities can help students in rural communities avoid the dreaded 'brain drain' like these students in a science lab doing an experiment.

How the tech community can minimize brain drain in rural communities

Increasing access to STEM education and internship opportunities can help students in rural communities avoid the dreaded 'brain drain'

[Editor’s note: Today’s stories take a two-pronged look at rural brain drain. This story examines the issue from the tech community’s perspective. Look at the issue from an educator’s perspective here.]

As an educator with a background in computer science, I have always been passionate about teaching STEM skills to the next generation, particularly students in rural areas who may not have as much exposure. For the past several years, I have been doing just that for high school students in Alabama, most recently in Lawrence County.

In 2013 our county faced the closing of the paper mill, our largest employer and number one corporate citizen – greatly impacting an area where jobs and career options were already very limited. Since then, I’ve witnessed the proliferation of what many now call the “brain drain”–a problem particularly pervasive in rural areas, referring to how students are forced to look for careers outside of their hometowns due to limited career options in their fields of interest.

Related content: Where will STEM education be in 5 years?

With the increase in STEM careers and promise for students interested in pursuing this path, rural communities without access to these jobs feel the impact of rural brain drain particularly hard.

While there isn’t a simple solution–or really, a single solution–to reversing the rural brain drain tide, there are steps that the tech community can take to help educators.

A few of the biggest challenges facing STEM educators in rural communities include misconceptions about STEM and what it takes to teach these subjects, staying connected and current on the ever-changing tech industry to know what is the “latest” skill for students to learn, and inspiring and motivating students when teachers have limited resources.

The good news is, for those in the tech industry who want to help, there are quite a few ways to support STEM education in rural communities with a wide range of time commitments:
Get involved with a STEM competition: Become a judge or expert advisor on behalf of a national STEM competition, such as the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The contest is designed to boost interest and proficiency in STEM and challenges public school teachers and students in grades 6-12 to show how STEM can be applied to help improve their local community. Many of the applicants and participants come from rural communities and need expert advisors to share information and ask questions. This can be done remotely or face to face.
Help inspire and motivate students: Students in rural areas don’t often get to meet and talk with people in the tech industry. If you have five minutes, a short video describing your job, a day in the life, how you were hired, and other tips and advice for STEM students is an incredible way to inspire students.
● Create opportunities for rural students: Help identify and facilitate opportunities for students in rural communities through remote paid and unpaid internships and contract work. The beauty of tech jobs is the ability to work from almost anywhere. Tap into communities of bright and eager young people in rural communities who can bring a fresh and different perspective.
Lead a virtual study session: Partner with educators to lead an after school study session for STEM subjects in your field. This can easily be done through video and would go a long way in helping students get outside support from an expert.
Support a teacher: Support STEM teachers by becoming a resource for mentoring and general advice. Advising on the latest programming language and suggestions for what should be taught to keep students current or ahead of the curve can be incredibly valuable.

Rural communities don’t have to lose an educated workforce to big cities – but teachers can’t fight this alone, and we need help from the tech and developer community. The more involvement and action from the tech community to tap into and harness the power of students in rural areas can lead to a workforce with more diversity and impact. The next generation of skilled STEM workers are right here and waiting.

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