June 2018 Director's Letter - Why STEM?

12 June 2018

WHEN I BECAME ASNT’S executive director almost four years ago, I knew that the public, especially young people, needed to learn about nondestructive testing (NDT). ASNT first exhibited at the USA Science & Engineering Festival (the nation’s largest STEM event) months before I arrived. I saw this as a preliminary step in evaluating the value of STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math) to NDT. At that time it was more of a marketing initiative similar to other ASNT initiatives. We immediately recognized that this could be a stepping stone and a more meaningful program to encourage young people to choose NDT as a career. Candidly, I see our engagement with students and educators as a moral and operational imperative. To that end, the biannual ASNT Day of STEM for local high school students and educators, launched in 2015, has become part of each Research Symposium and Annual Conference. Possible only through volunteer support, resources, and time, ASNT’s flagship STEM engagement program has presented NDT through immersive activities to more than 500 students in less than three years. Board officers and members have made the Day of STEM a must-attend event. 

ASNT’s Day of STEM is full day of hands-on and engaging activities for the students and their teachers. Not only do they visit stations and perform various NDT methods, but they also get to explore the exhibit hall. With ASNT volunteers as their tour guides, students can see some of the latest NDT technology and also hear stories of how people started their NDT journeys. The exhibit hall is a highlight for many attendees (as relayed through the post-program survey). 

It is easy to forget the fundamentals of who we are. NDT is not about performing rote tasks. It is a field of STEM-based problem solving with professionals of diverse skillsets and interests. There are many professions that primarily employ one or two of the STEM disciplines. NDT is one of the few fields that uses all four in each application. Whether one has a passion for just one or all of the STEM areas, there is a place for everyone. Let’s take a step back and look at the totality of STEM impact on NDT.

Science is the foundation for NDT. Understanding Ohm’s law, density, and acoustic impedance are everyday applications of science principles in NDT. The fundamentals of science are the building blocks for researchers to move the industry forward.

Technology is what continues to advance the efficiency and accuracy of inspections. How far we have come from visual testing! ASNT’s method-focused Topical Conferences showcase combinations of science and technology solutions. The world’s leading technology suppliers look to ASNT conferences and symposia to discover the latest developments in technology that are ever more agile, responsive, and precise.

Engineering is a term that is, generally, thought to be comprehensive of the science and technology under which there are many disciplines. NDT is vital in civil, electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineering, among others. The conferring and analyzing of industry-sector engineering concepts to make certain NDT is responsive, relevant, and keeping pace with design innovations is a must. The industry sector–focused ASNT Topical Conferences are evidence of industry and NDT’s interdependence in the safety and quality inspections required throughout a system or structure’s lifetime. 

Math, from the basic to complex, is germane to understanding the outputs we are seeing as inspectors, managers, engineers, and business owners. Math is what provides meaning to the results viewed on the various technologies employed. We take for granted that metric/SI conversions and performing trigonometric functions are just part of our daily grind. Knowing how to identify and calculate a deviation can determine if a part with a critical defect is removed from service, averting a catastrophe.

This summer, ASNT will be offering Math & Physics of NDT as a course for the very first time. How often do we sharpen our math skills? Near and far field calculations and inverse square law are just a couple of the concepts covered in this course. NDT technicians who require a solid foundation in math to pass examinations or perform their jobs are the target attendees, although anyone in NDT or NDE could find utility and value to build on foundational math principles. 

ASNT’s participation in STEM events isn’t merely about us sharing our knowledge. It is about us meeting students where they are and receiving and being open to the talents and voices of the next generation of innovators, who are viewing the world in a very different way than most of us in this industry do presently. These students are hungry learners, not jaded by experience, and do not know limitations. Let’s encourage their curiosity and make NDT a welcoming career field that will support them.

As a result of ASNT’s continued outreach and engagement with national career and academic organizations, more school counselors and science teachers are now recommending NDT as a career path to pursue. The great work each of you does daily makes telling the ASNT and NDT story easy and compelling.

The next Day of STEM will take place at the upcoming Annual Conference in Houston, Texas. I urge you to stop in and see all the action, especially the excitement in the young people’s faces. 

ASNT is actively developing outreach tools to make NDT a well-known career in STEM circles and draw light to NDT’s impact on the world’s safety. Today, make a personal commitment to introduce at least one person a month (weekly if you are ambitious) to NDT. I look forward to hearing about your reception and progress. As always, feel free to contact me with your comments, questions, or concerns.

 

DR. ARNOLD “ARNY” BERESON

ASNT Executive Director

abereson@asnt.org