June 27, 2023 / Ed Rutkowski

Three Thoughts on STEM

Three Thoughts is a new SynergistNOW series based on episodes of the Healthier Workplaces Show, an AIHA video podcast.

How can OEHS professionals get young people excited about health and safety? This question is of obvious importance to many AIHA members, and it’s one that Fredi Lajvardi is well positioned to answer. As Lajvardi explained during his closing session address at AIHce EXP 2023, he spent 30 years as a high school teacher in Phoenix and now runs the Si Se Puede Foundation, an organization dedicated to stimulating interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among disadvantaged communities. His experience includes leading students in robotics competitions and other technology-related events, and one of his teams’ successes was dramatized in the motion picture Spare Parts starring George Lopez and Marisa Tomei.

Before Lajvardi delivered his talk on May 24, he sat down with host Bob Krell for a live episode of AIHA’s Healthier Workplaces Show. Joining them on the expo floor were Nancy Orr and Sharon Shindel, AIHA members who are involved with Safety for Nonprofits, or S4NP, an organization that delivers pro-bono health and safety services for volunteer organizations and has begun working with Si Se Puede. Here are a few takeaways from their conversation, which focused on stimulating interest in STEM among students:

The value of a STEM education is in the process of problem-solving. Not every science or technology course is truly STEM, Lajvardi said. STEM is a process that uses science, technology, engineering, and math to solve problems, and the key is for educators to introduce students to collaborative, project-based work, which doesn’t lend itself to the constraints of 50-minute class periods. The most important thing students learn through their participation in STEM is not how to build an underwater robot, for example, but how to become a critical thinker, Lajvardi said.

Kids don't need to be math whizzes to succeed. While a certain level of numeracy is a prerequisite for STEM-related careers, you don’t have to love math to be successful. Many STEM fields have creative aspects that may appeal to kids who mistakenly believe they need to be math super-geniuses to explore their interests in, say, robotics. A related point is that not every biology major will become a doctor; they need to know they can do other things with their degree.

To reach young people, look for opportunities outside the classroom. Because STEM learning is tough to pull off in school, OEHS professionals who want to introduce students to health and safety will have the most success by meeting students in their communities. “Kids become who they interact with,” Lajvardi said.

The episode is available at the Healthier Workplaces Show webpage. AIHA resources for OEHS practitioners interested in reaching out to students include the IH Heroes comic book series, the Safety Matters initiative, and the I Am IH Leadership Challenge.

Ed Rutkowski

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist.



Great article thank you! I can totally see how STEM may seem a bit scary to students because of the perception that it takes a math/computer wiz to be good. Whereas if students lack this, they can still be excel using the traits they do possess.

By Gabe J on August 4, 2023 1:43pm

Add a Comment