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Creative problem solving and the evolution of STEM education

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Creative problem solving and the evolution of STEM education

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This week Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih (@clarashih) had the special privilege of speaking at Fortune Brainstorm TECH, one of the world’s premier technology and innovation events, on the growing demand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Fortune Brainstorm TECH 2014

Maria Klawe (President, Harvey Mudd College) and Clara Shih (CEO, Hearsay Social)

Fortune Brainstorm TECH 2014

Colin Bodell (CTO, Time Inc.), Maria Klawe (President, Harvey Mudd College), Clara Shih (CEO, Hearsay Social), and John Chambers (CEO, Cisco)

Other prominent speakers at the conference included CEOs John Chambers of Cisco, Daniel Ek of Spotify, Aaron Levie of Box, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed, and Kevin Systrom of Instagram, as well as Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Vice Chairman James Lee.

On Tuesday, Clara joined John Chambers (CEO, Cisco) and Maria Klawe (President, Harvey Mudd College, @MariaKlawe) to discuss the state of STEM education in a session moderated by Colin Bodell (Chief Technology Officer, Time Inc.). See Fortune’s coverage of the panel here; our key takeaways and full video are below.

The growing demand for STEM education

Maria kicked off the session, describing how Harvey Mudd College transformed its student body from 27% females in engineering and 30% females total to, in the class of 2014, 56% females in engineering and 46% total. And that took just eight years.

Changes implemented by the college to spur that transformation were simple. The college’s recruiting materials showed 50% females, tour guides were 50% female, and today the faculty is 40% female. As Maria explained, “We just made it really clear that being a female engineer, physicist, mathematician, computer scientist—that’s normal.” Not only that, but their courses placed an emphasis on creative problem solving.

“I have yet to meet a young person who doesn’t want to be creative and who doesn’t like problem solving,” said Maria.

It’s an incredible accomplishment for Harvey Mudd but, as Cisco CEO John Chambers explained, there are still many steps until we will see changes like this globally. “K-12 is broken,” he said, and it will require major rethinking of education and identity to fix it.

“When you do a Google image search for ‘computer scientist,’ it’s all white male.” said Clara. “And that’s the societal view of it right now, so there’s an issue of identity.”

Clara spoke to her personal experience as an immigrant and women in the science and math fields. As she argued, parents, teachers, and the students themselves are responsible for cultivating a new, disrupted educational landscape where technology is not something to be intimidated by, but something to embrace.

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