Meet my friend Jeff (not his real name). Jeff was one of my classmates at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Poly was a magnet school that enrolled students who were gifted in math and science. I was a child from the project homes of Cherry Hill and my friend Jeff lived in the upper middle class community of Roland Park. On the surface we were an odd couple indeed. I was Black. Jeff was White. I was a scholar athlete who liked to party. Jeff was a bookworm and proud of it. Despite our many differences, we really grew to like each other and became friends. We became such good friends that Jeff invited me to his home one weekend. Little did he know how much that one visit would change my life forever.
That visit changed my life because it forced the immediate juxtaposition of our two worlds – one Black Baltimore, the other upper class White Baltimore. The first differences I noticed were the obvious. For example, Jeff’s home in Roland Park had lots of rooms. They had a living room, a family room, a dining room, a mudroom, a kitchen, and all other types of rooms. In my home in Cherry Hill, we had two rooms on the first floor –living room and kitchen – that was it. While upstairs, I noticed that Jeff and his siblings each had their own beautifully decorated bedroom. Each bedroom was equipped with an ornate bed that supported two thick mattresses (I later learned that one of the mattresses was actually a box spring). In my home, all of my siblings shared one bedroom, two or three kids to a bed, and our single mattress was barely two inches thick and was as comfortable as a pile of cardboard. The contrast in Jeff’s quality of life and mine was stark.
Perplexed and visibly unable to contain my curiosity, I boldly confronted Jeff’s father to understand how he was able to provide for his family in this manner. I asked, “So Sir, what do you do for a living?” He replied, “Robert, I am an engineer.” Still not satisfied, I decided to ask a more probing question. “Sir, what I really want to know is how do you make enough money to live like this?” Jeff’s father smiled and patiently replied, “Son, I own a business that allows me to use my engineering skills. That’s how I earn a living.” It is no coincidence that today, I am an engineer and I own my own business. Without knowing it, Jeff’s father had in a matter of minutes, changed the vector of my life forever. I was never the same after that encounter.
In our world today, professionals with skills in math, engineering, science and technology are the highest paid and in the greatest demand. In my industry of information technology and energy services, we cannot find enough engineers and scientists to meet the anticipated demand of our clients and the industry. When we build our solar and wind energy plants, we struggle to find people with the appropriate technical skills.
I am an example of how a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) career can transform someone’s economic status in one generation. If you want a better life, desire to get to your “economic promise land” and are willing to work for it, a STEM career can get you there. It is an efficient path to the promise land.
Look for my article next week on what STEM careers you should consider pursuing.
Robert L. Wallace (www.RobertWallace.com) is an engineer, entrepreneur, adjunct professor of business at Loyola University, an internationally recognized expert on entrepreneurship, STEM strategies, innovation, and strategic alliances and the author of five books on entrepreneurship and economic development. He is the founder of two technology companies – BITHGROUP Technologies, Inc. (www.Bithgroup.com) and BITHENERGY, Inc. (www.Bithenergy.com).