Precision is Key: A Campus Gift to Meet Surging STEM Demand in the Midwest


The STEM job market, which continues to surge across many regions of the country, is nonetheless a fluid one. Demand varies based on different factors and, in many places, the wrong kind of STEM training for college students can lead to dead ends and frustration. 

So even though STEM giving on campus is red hot right now, it needs to be done carefully if it's going to lead to near-term opportunities for graduates—especially if they live in regions where certain STEM skills can translate into nice salaries while others can leave them working at Walmart. 

For a closer look at these issues in action, we turn to Indiana, where the University of Indianapolis announced the launch of the R.B. Annis School of Engineering through a $5 million gift from the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation. The gift will advance the university's well-thought out strategy to address STEM and engineering workforce gaps in Indiana.

Among other things, this gift is an encouraging one because it reinforces the idea that the demand for engineers isn't limited to places like Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle. Indeed, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, STEM careers rank among its "Hoosier Hot 50" list of in-demand careers for the state.

It's all exciting stuff, but the "STEM field" is a rather broad terrain. Does Indiana need more data scientists? Bridge builders? Java developers?

More precision is needed, which is brings me back to the Annis gift. The new school will offer "specialized areas of study in computer science, industrial and systems engineering, software engineering and mechanical engineering" beginning in the fall of 2017. Just as importantly, students will benefit from a project-based learning and "Design Spine" experience that uniquely combines specialized training in engineering linked with hands-on, real-life experiences.

These areas were not chosen randomly, or through the whim of a donor (which can sometimes be the case.) They reflect an assessment of local needs. The idea of factoring in hands-on experience also reflects a growing attention to these days among both donors and universities to ensuring that students get a taste of the work world beyond campus before receiving their diplomas. 

The practical application of STEM skills in a real-world context mirrors Robert B. Annis' (1907-1999) career as an inventor, community leader, businessman, and founder of the R.B. Annis Company in 1928. His foundation, which was established in 1996, primarily focuses on science and education. Across the past two decades, it has provided philanthropic support to organizations like the Indianapolis Zoo, Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the Indianapolis Children's Museum.

In 2015, the foundation made a significant gift to dedicate the R.B. Annis Theatre in the new UIndy Health Pavilion, which remains a showcase location for innovations in health care and many campus events.