Column: Growing STEM talent is critical

Patti Poppe

This is an exciting time for Consumers Energy and the energy industry. We’re in the midst of unprecedented transformation. Technological advances are rapidly reshaping the way we do business.

We need Michigan’s brightest minds to help us meet the energy challenges of a new millennium such as rebuilding our electric and natural gas infrastructure and adding more renewable sources to our generation mix. And that need is urgent because, like many companies, a large number of our most talented and experienced employees are beginning to leave the workforce.

How can we find and prepare the young people who will help us meet Michigan’s energy needs in the coming decades?

The search starts with STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. We know STEM careers are important; this talent powers many areas of our company, and the future looks even brighter for these types of jobs.

And the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics program is a fantastic way for young people to flex their STEM muscles. FIRST nurtures K-12 students by helping develop their innovation, engineering, decision-making and team-building talents to create a brighter future for themselves and Michigan.

The numbers make clear the importance of supporting FIRST Robotics for a stronger Michigan. Consider:

■FIRST alumni are 2.6 times more likely to enroll in an engineering course their college freshman year, and

■More than 75 percent of alumni are in a STEM field as a student or professional.

I’ve seen the FIRST impact first-hand. My twin daughters, now college juniors studying engineering, had rewarding, life changing experiences competing in FIRST Robotics state and world competitions in their high school days. That is why our company is proud to support STEM and the FIRST in Michigan robotics organization.

I’m privileged to co-chair the steering committee of the 2018 FIRST Robotics Championship in Michigan with Roger Curtis, Michigan’s director of Talent and Economic Development. The event is slated for April 25-28 at Cobo Center and Ford Field and you can watch live streams of the competition at firstinmichigan.org. It is our steering committee’s goal to broaden the reach and exposure of FIRST Robotics to other company leaders and educational institutions so we can accelerate the growth of our Michigan Talent Pipeline. FIRST Robotics makes it fun and Michigan companies make it possible! The financial backing of corporate sponsors combined with the guidance, hearts and souls of the mentors, FIRST Robotics changes lives and opens doors for young people. My husband Eric and many of my Consumers Energy co-workers serve as mentors and coaches to robotics’ teams in their hometowns all over Michigan.

In 2017, the Consumers Energy Foundation contributed more than $425,000 for FIRST Robotics teams at elementary, middle and high school levels across the state. We want every interested school and student to participate, from the largest to smallest districts, to those in rural areas and those that are under-resourced.

We know supporting FIRST in Michigan helps students, but we also know it enhances our state. When Michigan wins, we win. And Consumers Energy is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to improve the quality of life for our friends, family and neighbors all across our great state.

Patti Poppe is president and CEO of Consumers Energy.