An IT Giant Sees the "Maker" Movement As the Key to Getting Kids Excited about STEM

Like every major tech company, Cognizant is deeply worried about whether young people will have the skills needed to power tomorrow's knowledge economy. Such concerns are driving a wave of grantmaking for new work at all levels of education. 

For its part, Cognizant believes that the “maker” movement is the best way to get kids excited about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. A major global player in information technology, Cognizant has a corporate sustainability arm that funds afterschool, in-school, and summer programs through its Making the Future initiative. “Maker” culture emphasizes hands-on, immersive projects that spark kids' interest as they work toward a final product using robotics, 3-D printing, wearable technology, and more. The movement was recognized by the White House at the inaugural 2014 Maker Faire and continues to gain traction with educators.

By awarding 40 grants this spring, Cognizant is engaging young learners from 25 states in an estimated 175,000 hours of “making” activities. Recipients include schools, public libraries, YMCAs, and museums. Last year, the Saint Paul Public Library used its grant to host Maker Camps where local kids created circuit boards, LED greeting cards and vinyl stickers. The guiding principles for grantees are simple: Keep activities fun and engaging, allow for creativity and experimentation, and, above all, make something.

We’ve written before about Cognizant’s theory that being interested in science and math is more important than actually being good at science and math. The Fortune 500 company is fostering accessible learning as and developing a competent workforce by promoting skills that are increasingly sought in our evolving economy.

“The talent shortage in the STEM fields is real. Through Making the Future, Cognizant is giving young learners an avenue for developing interest and passion for STEM subjects across socio-economic barriers and stereotypical gender divides,” said Steven Schwartz, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at Cognizant. “Cognizant is committed to developing and supporting education initiatives that promote skills for the 21st century knowledge economy, helping American workers thrive today and in the future, and preparing our youth to capitalize on STEM career opportunities going forward.”

The premise behind the Making the Future initiative aligns with the trends we’ve observed in K-12 STEM funding—namely that successful grant applicants are tech-focused, innovative, serve diverse demographics, and get students revved up about learning. Gone are the nerd stereotypes of coke-bottle glasses and pocket protectors; we’re living in the Age of the Geek, where knowledge is the new cool.

Back in 2014, Cognizant pledged to provide over 1.5 million hours of making experiences to U.S. children by 2017, a commitment already exceeded at 1.9 million hours and counting. Giving kids the opportunity to get excited about STEM by getting their hands dirty and producing tangible results makes sense as an educational philosophy. We’re hoping that students can maintain that passion when they go back to the classroom and crack open the books.

Related: Can Funding Makerspaces Make STEM Cool?