The STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — are of growing importance for my generation. However, alone, are they enough?
The future of science is through international collaboration; therefore, becoming globally engaged as a scientist is essential. Scientists interested in environmental issues, geopolitical conflicts, and global climate change must (metaphorically, of course) shred their passports and think of themselves as global citizens. This type of thinking facilitates international collaboration and, consequently, robust research projects.
For this to occur, STEM must expand to include international experiences and foreign language study – iSTEM, if you will.
I have always succeeded at science in school, and I had exposure to a nonprofit that does a lot of great work in environmental education while in high school. These experiences left me motivated and passionate about developing solutions for anthropogenic climate change.
However, it was not until traveling during my semester abroad to Switzerland, where I literally saw glacial breakup in the Alps as a consequence of global climate change, that I really felt impassioned to continue to research its myriad ecological consequences. This experience instilled a vital perspective that the classroom alone could not.
Later, working as a research assistant in Puerto Rico, I was inspired by the biodiversity and beautiful complexity of the rainforests during our daily hikes to research sites. Then, as a fellow through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), or as it’s called in German, Parlamentarisches Patenschafts-Programm für junge Berufstätige (PPP), I gained additional experience and language skills that will help propel my professional and academic development to the next level.
It is essential for young scientists to gain perspective through intercultural experiences. Global issues require an understanding of different perspectives and world views, which can only be acquired through such encounters. Many new, broader scientific questions require, in addition to the science, an understanding of particular socio-cultural dynamics in order to develop a holistic solution for all stakeholders.
How can this higher analytical thinking be acquired? Through intercultural experiences!
In addition to helping scientists ask the right questions, there are countless other reasons to incorporate intercultural experiences into STEM education. The science community has an unfortunate history of being a male-dominated, less inclusive group. By providing students with earlier intercultural opportunities, they will understand the importance of diversity and inclusivity in science. Everybody loses when science is dominated by one group, because we are only getting a small sliver of the potential perspective from our diverse global community.
As ecologists, we view diversity as an essential metric of health for an ecosystem; therefore, it would be insane to not take the same approach as our own scientific community. We need everyone to come together, share ideas, and collaborate to answer the vast array of scientific questions posed by our natural world.
The gap in science communication is wide but crossable. Initiatives like iSTEM help to bridge not only the divide in science communication but also cultural divides by providing the tools to combat singular anthropocentric thinking. These anthropocentric views in education, in addition to exclusivity, are the greatest barriers to developing intelligent collaborative solutions for global issues.
In order to seriously develop solutions for the innumerable complex issues brought about by climate change, we need a sustained international dialogue among diverse young scientists as well as the larger science community.