As much as the mid 20th century was dominated by manufacturing prowess, the modern, 21st century economy will be dominated by technological development. Tomorrow’s jobs will continue along this route, where America’s competitive advantage in increasingly global markets will be determined by creativity and technological development.  
 
Schools modeled solely on 19th century architectural ideals - a teacher lecturing to a group of students – are ill-suited for modern learning in today’s economy. The STEM curriculum (an interdisciplinary and applied approach to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) encompass modes of learning essential for preparation for the modern workforce: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, analysis, and problem solving. STEM strives to promote social and emotional growth through project-based learning by cultivating leadership qualities, collaboration, and communication skills. 
 
From an architectural perspective, the physical environments in which STEM is taught should also help to augment the program’s special modes of learning. For example, utilizing mobile furniture enhances flexibility and adaptability of spaces. Providing transparency fosters curiosity and cross pollination of subjects. Carving out informal gathering spaces encourages collaboration. Incorporating areas of expansive writing surfaces allows for spontaneous innovation. Providing physical and digital displays promotes student accomplishments and foster pride in ones work. Integrating inspirational graphics helps to motivate and excite students about learning. Utilizing cutting-edge technologies keeps students at the forefront of change, and weaving nature into the building lends for serendipitous and interactive learning opportunities. Moreover, STEM learning environments need to provide a range of comfortable spaces where students are free to explore curiosities and learn through collaboration and hands-on inquiry.  
 
A large obstacle for science and math subjects is bridging the gap between what is taught on paper and real world applications. As a volunteer with Architecture in the Schools, a program that brings architects and teachers together to bridge this gap, I found that the architectural design process paired with active learning strategies, key to a STEM curriculum, created the perfect opportunity to excite students about these stereotypically intimidating subjects. Furthermore it allowed me to introduce the next generation to my passion for the field of design and construction.

In graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I saw first-hand the role design plays in facilitating cross-pollination, innovation, and creativity in STEM disciplines. I also saw that these crucial qualities become enhanced by bringing in different perspectives and backgrounds. Unfortunately, women and minorities are underrepresented in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Secondary school programs like STEM and volunteer programs like Architecture in the Schools however, have begun to eradicate the environmental and social barriers that block women and minority involvement in STEM-based careers.  
 
Over the last half decade I have been honored to be a part of design teams that have created numerous inspirational learning environments that stimulate kids’ curiosity in STEM subjects. Furthermore, as a Hispanic woman in a STEM profession, it is exceptionally rewarding to bring to life a space that fosters passion for the STEM industry. I hope our efforts at QEA will help to inspire a girl or a boy, no matter their ethnicity, to pursue a fulfilling career in science, technology, engineering, or math.