STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers are the latest to gain traction thanks to the interest of the youngest consumer generation, Gen Z. According to the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs will increase by up to 30 percent by 2022! However, at the current time, universities are finding difficulty retaining students in these fields because the programs tend to be too theoretical and non-practical to keep students engaged. To correct this problem, Millennial parents and educators are now using Virtual Reality (VR) to get kids interested in science and technology.
VR creates a fully immersive three-dimensional experience that allows individuals to experience the impossible, such as traveling through the Ebola virus or studying paleontology in the Jurassic period. Half the brain is dedicated to visual processing, so intense visual stimulation like VR aids with information processing. With just a VR headset, educators can supplement student education by providing hands-on learning opportunities. While most VR equipment doesn’t come cheap as it is yet to be democratized (much like the journey of organic foods), there are a few affordable options already in the market: Google Cardboard and I Am Cardboard’s VR Cardboard Kit V2.0 are both under $25.
“By using VR in education, material now considered too difficult for many students and taught even to advanced learners only at the college level could be mastered by most students in middle school and high school,” said NASA’s Software Technology Branch.
Anticipating the impact of this among Gen Zers, aerospace company Lockheed Martin created a one-of-a-kind virtual experience for kids called the Lockheed Martin Mars Experience Bus. The creation is an actual school bus with transparent screens instead of windows that allows riders to experience the streets of Washington D.C. one minute and the sights and sounds of Mars the next. Thanks to Oscar award-winning visual effects studio Framestore, the screens play video footage of Mars’s surface so that riders can view 200 square miles of the Red Planet firsthand. Students from Girls Inc. and 4H were brought in to participate and be inspired by the VR experience.
“It’s incredible to make something that pushes the boundaries of what is possible, but it’s a real honor when that project inspires kids to do the same,” said Framestore’s Global Head of VR and Executive Producer Christine Cattano. “By giving the next generation of minds the experience of exploring a new world, we hope we’re inspiring the possibility — and the desire — for them to get there.”
While undoubtedly cool, The Mars Experience Bus is also rooted in usefulness for the next generation. It is part of a campaign from Generation Beyond, an educational program that encourages children to pursue STEM career paths. Generation Beyond, in tandem with this VR experience, also includes lesson plans, an interactive space flight experience and family activities from Discovery Education that are meant to “prepare the next generation of explorers.”
As we are seeing the pendulum swing back towards a culture that is more revolved around individual achievement for Gen Z, this introduction of VR into the educational realm is important. These students are the next generation of creators, innovators and leaders, and they need more exposure to exciting scientific advances to contribute to continued worldwide progress in the future. Perhaps they will be the generation to cure cancer or to solve world hunger. And, just maybe, integrating VR into their education will expedite that process.
The question is: What role can your brand play in supporting them on their journeys?