Going Small

It's never too soon to teach kids about science, engineering… and even standards.

There once was a time when science and engineering were considered not only good ways to make a living but maybe even "cool." Today, with changes in aptitudes and priorities,1 young people are less inclined to consider the challenges of the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In an ongoing effort to strengthen STEM education and interest more students - while also raising awareness of the importance of standards - ASTM has served as a resource for programs led by others; in some cases ASTM has been directly involved in educational outreach initiatives.

Korea's KSA and Youth Olympiads

For instance, in the former category, the very successful Korean Standards Association Olympiad references some ASTM resources. Sooyoung Kang, Ph.D., senior researcher at the Global Standardization Center of the Korean Standards Association, Seoul, South Korea, explains that her organization, founded in 1962, has been a key player in developing the nation's economy. KSA has also accumulated enormous know-how in both industrial standardization and quality management. The association is a repository of expertise on Korean Standards and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification as well as industrial training and education in general.

One of the organization's ongoing programs is the Korea Youth Olympiad, which involves about 300 teams and some 850 students in an effort to spark creative and scientific thinking through standards-related assignments and competition. The recently completed Ninth Standards Olympiad was, for the first time, piloted as an international event.

Sooyoung notes that she introduces the ASTM Professor's Tool Kit in her presentations because she believes educators could take advantage of it when they start their own standards education curriculum. "I think the Professor's Tool Kit does a pretty nice job," Sooyoung adds.

Standards Learn and ANSI Education

Another well-known standards education effort is Standards Learn, sponsored by the American National Standards Institute. The site provides a range of free, self-paced online courses highlighting the value and importance of standards and compliance programs in the United States and globally. In addition, the site offers several "K-12 Student Resources," which include easy-to-use educational tools geared toward younger students.

ANSI also organizes a Committee on Education in which ASTM is an active member. The committee oversees initiatives related to standards and conformity assessment education and outreach. Among those initiatives are efforts to develop a long-term strategy for university faculty outreach to promote the integration of standards and conformity assessment in the curricula. Another effort seeks to develop programs and tactics that raise awareness of the importance of standards and identify target audiences and learning objectives for further educational outreach.

Along with ANSI, ASTM exhibited at the April 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo in Washington, D.C. - a national grassroots effort to advance STEM education and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Websites Encouraging Engineering

Standards developer the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has partnered with IBM to create "TryEngineering.org," intended to help pre-university students, parents, teachers, school counselors and the general public explore how to prepare for an engineering career, ask experts engineering-related questions, and play interactive games. ASTM has worked closely with IEEE to share ideas and participate on panels that address standards education, most recently at the Capstone Design Conference held at Ohio State University last summer.

Engineering, Go For It, is a website created by the American Society for Engineering Education to foster educational and preprofessional interest in engineering and other STEM subjects from kindergarten through high school. The site features descriptions of professional paths for various engineering disciplines, including profiles of real people at work in the field. ASTM is an active member of ASEE and participates annually at the ASEE Conference.

ASTM Support for iPraxis

Finally, close to "home" - namely, in the communities near ASTM's headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania - the organization has provided support for local educational efforts, including an initiative with iPraxis, a nonprofit organization working with inner-city Philadelphia schools to interest middle school students in the sciences.

Two modules introducing seventh-grade students to standards and their purpose were presented by ASTM staff members James Olshefsky and Kimberly Simms, at the Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School in May 2014.

Jeremiah J. White Jr., president and founder of iPraxis, says that when a friend introduced him to the work of ASTM he was impressed with the dynamism of the organization and with its strong relationship with volunteers. "The question was how to transfer that knowledge to the kids," he says. An outgrowth of the question came early in 2014 when Olshefsky and Simms delivered their two informational sessions.

The first session focused on general information about ASTM and why standards are important. They then launched into a hands-on project focusing on water filtration. Olshefsky and Simms examined with the students how they would go about developing a test for water purity. "This was something the kids knew about - they realized that bad water could kill you. Looking at the materials that could be used to purify water they realized that you have to have standards to ensure that the water is properly purified," White explains.

Then, the pair went back and did a second workshop called "Write It, Do It," modeled after a popular U.S.-based Science Olympiad activity. They had one group of kids build something with Lego blocks and create instructions for how to replicate what they did. Then, they gave those instructions to another group. It was a practical workshop to help students understand the importance of standard specifications and their connection to engineering and math.

"With the help of ASTM we have been able to get science out of the classroom and into the living room so that kids now see that they can do science and engineering," White adds.


1. Washington Post, On Small Business blog, Jan. 6, 2012.

Alan Earls is a writer and author who covers business and technology topics for newspapers, magazines and websites. He is based near Boston, Massachusetts.
Issue Month: 
Issue Year: 
Industry Sectors: 
Metals & Materials
Consumer Products