We sat down with Valerie Bayes, STEM Engagement Lead at Monsanto, to learn why it is important to inspire the next generation to be problem solvers and innovators. She explains how teaching students to be curious can help grow the future of the agriculture industry. Learn more:

Why is STEM education important for students?
STEM education itself is really not that important for students; truly, it’s so much more than that. It’s teaching students how to problem-solve, ask better questions and be curious about the world around them. When a student contributes to a solution that solves a problem, you will notice that the student takes pride and ownership in seeing that the problem is solved. Knowing that they helped solve the problem creates a type of fascination, obsession, and self-confidence that they are intelligent, resourceful contributors who can make real changes in the world.
What do you see as the long-term benefits of encouraging students to be curious and ask questions?
Enabling students to make observations, develop real solutions or improvements to the systems they observe and providing the opportunity for them to get tangible experience building, modeling, prototyping and inquiring will enable students to follow their passions. For example, maybe a student is fascinated by how a plant converts sunlight and CO2 into food, or maybe a student is fascinated by how a drone can image the health of a plant. It doesn’t really matter what exactly sparks their curiosity, once their curiosity is sparked and they are given an avenue and mentorship to ask these questions to explore and develop answers.
When thinking about the future of ag, why are STEM backgrounds important?
It is more than just a STEM background that’s important. It’s about enabling people’s curiosity to play and produce helpful solutions to the problems they observe. The future of agriculture will be dependent on how creative, persistent and innovative the next generation will be. And it goes beyond agriculture. A student may be curious about how and why a certain microbe works; the way they can apply that knowledge to the fields of energy, agriculture, pharma etc.
What advice would you give a young student who would like to be in a STEM field when they grow up?
Take a look around you. What are you curious about, what do you want to fix, where do you want to spend your time, what problems do you like to solve and what about those problems intrigues you? I also encourage students to think about what resources or people they need to connect with in order to succeed in their desired field.  For example, if you observe that you want to help people, but don’t like blood and don’t want to be a nurse or doctor, yet still want to do good and contribute to something bigger than yourself consider agriculture. Consider how your love of problem-solving and developing solutions to problems could be applied through engineering in agriculture.
What drives your passion for connecting with youth and advocating for STEM education?
Some of the most rewarding moments I can recall in my professional life have been when I present a challenge to a group of students and hours later a student comes up to me still ruminating solutions to the proposed challenge. That’s when you know they’ve got it. Their curiosity has been sparked in a way that keeps them up at night and gets them up early in the morning. They consult with their friends on the creative ideas they’ve developed and they’re eager to develop real solutions to real problems. It’s incredible to experience.
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