Op-Ed: Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers and Scientists Through Sports

By Al Williams, President, Chevron Pipe Line Company and Former Mississippi State Football Player

Chevron is the official STEM Education Partner to the 2016 Super Bowl Host Committee. The Chevron STEM Zone teaches kids the science behind sports.

As we watched the Super Bowl, we saw touchdowns, tackles and tosses. But football is much more. It involves force, speed, acceleration, mass and inertia. As a player runs down the field he has to think about what angle he is going to need to run to catch the ball. Technology has changed the game of football from equipment, helmets and huddles, to referee reviews and playback options. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is at work in our lives, both on and off the football field.

A native Mississippian, I came to Mississippi State on a football scholarship and played on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs. As a senior, a pivotal interception against Louisiana State University sparked an upset victory in 1990 that snapped a five game losing streak against the Tigers. Although athletics were important, I attended Mississippi State because I wanted to learn how to build things. I pursued a STEM degree and saw how I could translate the critical skills I learned into a career. After graduating with a degree in Electrical Engineering, I followed my passion for building and got a job at Chevron in 1991.

Al Williams, President, Chevron Pipe Line Company

My passion for getting youth inspired about STEM has led me to do advocacy work in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Department of Energy invited me to be an ambassador for the Minorities in Energy Initiative program, which focuses on getting minority students interested in STEM education and related fields.

Through that advocacy work, I’ve learned that we all need to mentor students, regardless of our own professions, in encouraging exploration, innovation and a desire to understand the importance of STEM. How is energy concentrated? How is a musical instrument designed? What’s inside a television that makes it work? These are the types of questions we should be sharing with students to initiate inquisitiveness and a passion for STEM.

Why? Because these jobs are important. The number of STEM jobs is growing faster than any other field and will increase 17% by 2018. But approximately 75 percent of U.S. students are not proficient in math when they enter high school. It is critical that we ensure the next generation of students is prepared to take on these jobs for years to come. By the time my eleven-year-old daughter graduates and enters the workforce, even more STEM jobs will be available and I want her to be prepared to take advantage of these opportunities.

I have seen first-hand over my 25-year career with an energy company the importance of investing in a future pipeline of strong engineers and scientists, which has to include women and minorities. However, looking broadly at the United States, African American and Hispanic graduates are underrepresented among the STEM-focused majors and within those earning advanced degrees. For example, between 1977 and 2006 less than 300 African American men and women earned PhDs in Physics out of more than 35,000 graduates.

We must continue to make the investment in turning that around.

Getting kids to understand the everyday connection to STEM is imperative in encouraging and exciting them to pursue a profession in this field. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) reported that in 2011, 21.5 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 played sports. This is an area where we can reach young students and show them the science behind their favorite sports and teams.

Chevron is the official STEM Education Partner to the 2016 Super Bowl Host Committee and through the Chevron STEM Zone, which teaches kids about STEM through sports, Chevron is helping to encourage and inspire more youth to explore STEM. Public and private partnerships are essential to building the next generation of America’s workforce and ensure we have top innovators and inventors.