Siemens At Forefront Of
Engineering Education

May 26, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — With global competition at a fierce level, the Siemens Foundation has made a commitment to pique students’ interest in math and science before it is too late.

The foundation launched a nationwide “Science Day” in early May in which Dematic Corp. is participating locally. Dematic Corp., an automated materials handling systems and solutions supplier, is the successor company of the former distribution and industry group of Siemens Logistics and Assembly Systems Inc. and a wholly owned subsidiary of Siemens.

Prashant Ranade, president and CEO of Dematic Corp., said the idea behind the day is to encourage an interest in math and science, as well as careers involving the subjects, at an early age.

The Siemens Science Day, meant to pique young students’ interest in science at a time when they are making serious decisions about their schooling, was developed using a scholastic curriculum-based science and math program that Jim Whaley, Siemens Foundation vice president, said “makes math and science cool for kids.”

The goal was to reach more than 7,000 kids with the national launch.

“We’re just getting started,” Whaley said.

The company also has participated in the FIRST Robotic program. Students in the program use computer programs and engineering skills such as CAD while learning about electrical and control systems as they create a robot that performs specific tasks during a competition, Ranade said.

“It is amazing at that age in high school how many different tools they get exposed to,” he said.

Ranade said the students also learn about one key to success in business: teamwork. “It’s a really good program,” he said. “It’s a fun project.”

Employees at Dematic have teamed with both Hudsonville High School and Creston High School to mentor the students while they go through the process of designing, building and controlling a robot. The hope is that the students will learn more about math and science and become interested in pursuing a career in related fields such as engineering, Ranade said. The subjects are presented in a way that is meant to invite rather than intimidate. “We kind of make it fun,” he said.

Ranade said sparking the curiosity of the students is important.

“Hopefully, that will increase the percentage of students who pursue a math and science career,” he said.

With 25 patents a year being filed at Dematic Corp. alone, Ranade said Siemens has a special interest in development and innovation, which “allows us to have competitive advantage,” he said.

But without science and math, those patents and innovations would never happen.

“Corporate America needs to take a leadership role,” he said of reviving math and sciences in schools. “Innovation today is really the lifeblood of a company, a community — and really a nation.”

Whaley said the Siemens Foundation is committed to furthering math and science education.

“We’re an innovative company that’s been in the United States since the laying of the transatlantic cable many years ago,” he said. And with 70,000 employees throughout the country, $5 billion in research and development, and an average of 26 patents filed every day, Whaley said the company has a large stake in the country’s future.

“To maintain the future that we are wanting — and that is a future that is filled with new innovations increasing the quality of life for everyone — it’s very important that we have an educated populous and work force,” he said.

The foundation also offers advanced placement scholarships, a Siemens teacher scholarship for college students at historically black colleges that are committed to teaching math and science, and the Siemens Competition, in which the nation’s top science students compete at an individual or team level. The winner of the competition receives $100,000 and earns recognition from some of the nation’s elite universities.

“It’s a wonderful experience for them,” Whaley said.

And one that gets results. One recent winner solved a 19th century math problem and found a way to apply it to light rail and aerodynamics. That student is planning to attend Harvard University in the fall.

Whaley said all the programs serve one purpose.

“It we want to maintain our quality of life and innovative history, we’re going to need to invest in the future.”    

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