Category Archives: STEM

The Martian: Important Messages in Film

What did you aspire to be when growing up and why? The power of entertainment to influence career choices is undeniable.

My favorite television show featured a doctor who always seemed the smartest person in the room because he knew why someone had died. While I wanted to keep people from dying, this show nonetheless influenced my desire to be a pathologist. Although I clearly did not become a pathologist, I still wanted to help people before the ultimate crisis.

I recently had the opportunity to see The Martian as a pre-release, and highly recommend it for students and educators. Opening in theaters October 2, this sci-fi movie directed by Ridley Scott is the best marketing piece I’ve seen to promote the study of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Playing an astronaut left behind after an expedition to Mars, Matt Damon’s character sums it up, saying, “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”

As a non-STEM viewer, I also gleaned a lot from the film. Here are some of the themes that resonated with me:

  • Being a leader means that you have to take responsibility for making hard decisions that have an impact on other people’s lives as well as your own;
  • Without critical thinking skills, one cannot create scenarios about the possible outcome of various courses of action or how to respond when the unexpected occurs;
  • Having confidence in the power of one’s own knowledge is the foundation needed to resolve to tackle and accomplish the seemingly impossible;
  • Keeping a sense of humor and music in our lives is the difference between desperation and hope;
  • Writing a journal is not just a record of what has happened, it is a secret companion and place for reflection;
  • Hacking can be good;
  • Never say that there is a “failure to communicate;” there is always a way;
  • What people think or public relations should never come before doing the right thing;
  • Be prepared for negative consequences sometimes when you do the right thing;
  • Math is really handy to know and could save your life;
  • Optimism and hard work are important values;
  • Millennials don’t care if you are the boss;
  • To what end are we working — purpose is key.

Movies do influence, and seeing someone in the movie with whom you can identify strengthens the connection and acceptance of the message. Women, Latinos (as), African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, and being Hindu and Baptist with black skin could all see reflections of self in a good light in this film.

Stronger Emphasis on ‘Soft Skils’

I’m serving on a Commission on the future for our very fine local community college, and I was at a meeting with business people and community college faculty, staff, and administrators.  In his closing remarks, the business man who is chairing the Commission reiterated what the various groups were saying about the needs of college graduates.

He said that the college needed to pay attention to ensuring that more students are preparing themselves in the STEM majors, but that they also needed to be prepared with what are sometimes called “soft skills.” Expecting to hear reasons why there is not more emphasis on those skills that student affairs works to encourage students to acquire, this very wise man made the following statement:

Soft skills may not get college credit, and they might not be accredited by the people who evaluate college courses, but we need to say, ‘The hell with that!’ We need to do what we know is right for students because it’s about learning and getting the skills students need to be successful.

If I had been in church, I would have said, “AMEN!” In my speeches and presentations, I’m focusing on what skills our graduates and alumni need in order to be prepared both for careers that currently exist and those that do not yet exist, and some of these skills are those skills called “soft skills.”

When I talk with employers, they say that college cannot prepare students for the specifics for most jobs, but they can give students the foundation that will be used in learning how to learn the specifics of the job. What students do not always have is the foundation that enables them to be excellent communicators across cultures. The employers are saying they need managers, and without the intercultural communication skills, our students will not be equipped.

These skills can be learned if student affairs will collaborate with faculty in offering what I call cocurriculum laboratories.

I will write about these in subsequent blogs and will respond to any questions or comments.