A look at how priorities have changed within STEM due to COVID-19

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Despite the bad things that happened, 2020 was a noteworthy year for many reasons. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive disruption to everyday life, giving people a chance to reflect on what is truly important. Meanwhile, conversations about race and culture were sparked on a massive new scale.

As a result of the many changes that occurred in 2020, the world is now focusing on solving problems that may not have been in the spotlight previously.

Since the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is responsible for solving many of today’s problems, those priorities are closely related.

Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow program puts a spotlight on where the STEM field is currently focusing thanks to its ever-changing nature. Over the past year, the main areas of focus have changed drastically in response to the pandemic and other issues that arose in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, areas like COVID-19 innovation, social justice, the environment, accessibility, and health were some of the most popular areas selected by Solve for Tomorrow’s 2020-2021 cohort.

Measure of Change

Those involved in STEM fields are often very forward-thinking. Many look to solve problems that are just starting to come into view. Others aim to eliminate problems before they even exist. As such, the world of STEM is often a great indicator of what the world will be focusing on in the coming years.

In a press release, Samsung’s senior director of corporate citizenship, Ann Woo, said, “Over the years, we’ve observed a rise in social issues, such as vaping, before they entered national consciousness and have seen other themes, like the environment, remain consistent year after year.”

Given the massive changes that occurred in 2020, it shouldn’t be surprising that those involved with STEM have changed some of their priorities. As the world develops new problems, the brightest minds seek creative ways to solve them. That’s exactly what’s being done with Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow program.

Woo says, “During the course of Samsung Solve for Tomorrow’s eleven-year run, we’ve seen our students unearth emerging challenges of a new decade caused by a number of social, cultural, economic, technological, communal, familial, and individual factors. Their entries are truly a reflection of what is top of mind for classrooms across the country, so it didn’t surprise us that COVID-19 would become a priority.”

A whopping 29 percent of projects within the Solve for Tomorrow program were things aimed at solving problems posed by COVID-19. Meanwhile, nine percent of projects fell into the social justice category.

New Priorities

Of course, there will always be some overlap between cohorts. That’s because certain problems don’t go away after a year. Things like helping the environment, making technology more accessible to those with disabilities, and finding ways to use technology to improve people’s health are always relevant.

As noted, however, some things can change drastically in a short period of time.

The projects focused on addressing COVID-19 do so in a variety of ways. For instance, they could include ways to sanitize public spaces, avoid contact with high-touch surfaces, and keep people connected through the age of social distancing.

Meanwhile, interventions geared towards social justice aim to address issues like racism and bias with STEM solutions. These could deal with technologies like facial recognition or work as platforms that provide education and promote inclusivity.

Ultimately, the scope of the projects within Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow program is virtually endless. Participants are able to pitch anything they can think of so long as it is an innovative way to solve a real-world problem.

Ready to Adapt

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow program is the fact that its participants are between grades 6 and 12. As such, the amount of foresight being shown to address the issues discussed is tremendous.

As Samsung notes, however, this generation isn’t new to dealing with chaos. In a press release, the company says, “Members of Generation Z are weathering a pandemic, a recession, a climate crisis, and a racial reckoning – all before reaching adulthood. Rather than succumbing to the pressure, the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow students are showing their resilience and ingenuity by harnessing STEM to confront these salient issues head-on.”

That is, after all, the spirit of STEM. On top of the fact that Solve for Tomorrow participants are attempting to address real-world issues, the program also gives them an opportunity to have their voices heard.

Woo notes, “The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow initiative has become the voice of the next generation, directly and authentically expressing to us what matters most… what strikes us about this latest Gen Z cohort is their passion for exploring new ideas, their willingness to rise to the challenge to tackle big issues, and their vision for what the world should look like. And STEM is playing a central role in this bold movement.”

More to Come

Moving forward, there will be no shortage of issues to address. Although everyone is hoping that 2021 will be a lot calmer than its predecessor, the world is always full of new obstacles to overcome. Fortunately, innovative solutions emerging from the world of STEM provide a way for our society to move past those challenges and emerge better as a result.

Thanks to initiatives like Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow that seek to engage young minds in STEM projects, the future looks bright. It will be interesting to see how the projects from this year’s cohort turn out.

As always, stay tuned to The Burn-In for the latest news about innovative gadgets, companies, and solutions emerging from the tech and science spaces.

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