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Free from Fear: Teaching Students to Take Risks in Education

School HallwayFear of failing may be holding today’s students back from successful careers in manufacturing engineering, according to a recent study.

Cheryl Birdsong-Dyer, an American Society for Quality member and professional process engineer told Manufacturing.Net that failing is a pivotal skill required in problem solving.

An ASQ survey conducted by Kelton Global found that 95 percent of teens believe that risk-taking is required for innovation in STEM careers, but 46 responded that they are uncomfortable taking risks to solve problems.

The survey found that the pressure of teens to succeed may be driven by parents, 81 percent of whom are uncomfortable if their child does not perform adequately in sports, extracurricular or social situations. Bad grades made 73 percent of parents uncomfortable.

Paul Borawski, CEO of ASQ, said that engineers work in an environment of constant risk, and they use quality tools to mitigate risk and boost creativity and innovation, which are needed to solve complex problems. He told Manufacturing.net, “We need to teach today’s students how to take risks and fail so they feel comfortable when faced with challenging work. If students are going to cure the next deadly disease, solve the energy crisis or end world hunger, they have to be prepared to fail and learn from those failures.”

Problem Solving

There are four basic steps in problem solving:

  1. Defining the problem.
  2. Generating alternatives.
  3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives.
  4. Implementing solutions.

Mind Tools has a variety of suggestions to complement the problem solving process, but one thing overlooked in its shortlist is failing. Going through this process will inevitably create failures that can inform future alternatives and lead to the ideal solution. Today, rapid prototyping and 3D printers make it increasingly easy to fail early, fail fast, fail often.

Students can embrace rewarding careers in manufacturing if they’re not afraid to also embrace failure. They should keep in mind the words of Thomas Edison when he was attempting to create the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that did not work.”

photo credit: Dean Terry via photopin cc

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