Could Jeremy Lin be the new ambassador of STEM education advocates?
The New York Knicks guard is the blindingly bright star of professional basketball this season. His chill-inducing, buzzer-beating three-point shot Tuesday night did nothing if not solidify Lin as a household name even for non-sports fans. And the NBA, post-lockout, could use the juice from Lin’s rapdily-growing star-wattage.
But another group could use some juice as well: STEM education advocates.
I have spent three days listening to business leaders, policy aficionados, and elected officials discuss the need for more U.S. graduates in math and science fields. Yet it’s all-but-certain that this nearly week-long conference hosted by General Electric will fail to reach anywhere near as many eyeballs as the image of an airborne Lin on one episode of ESPN SportsCenter.
With all of the talk about the role of education in any innovation economy — particularly the need to make the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields top-of-mind for students in the United States — Lin is a potential gold mine for those advocating on behalf of increased STEM and STEM-related education.
Lin is a Harvard graduate with a degree in Economics. Granted, economics is not engineering or computer science, but to earn an Economics degree from Harvard, you cannot be a slouch in math While academically exclusive and highly competitive, Harvard is not known as a basketball school — there is a long list of schools that feed far more talent to the NBA — which is all the more reason Lin stands out.
Of course, Lin is not the first athelete to pursue a degree in a STEM or a STEM-related field. Golfer Bobby Jones, who died in 1971 at age 69, earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech, a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard and, after about a year at Emory University Law School, successfully passed the Georgia Bar exam.
Morehouse graduate Edwin Moses majored in physics and engineering. He rejected an athletic scholarship in favor of an academic one, and went on to get an MBA from Pepperdine and become a two-time gold-medal winning track star, with a winning streak so long it was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The best-known college athletes are often drafted by pro teams before they finish their degrees and can rarely, with full legitimacy, serve as advocates for higher education, particularly as it relates to math and science. They are often touted as star graduates of institutions, but that’s generally as far as the light of their stardom reaches.
Michael Jordan left the University of North Carolina before finishing his undergraduate degree. He eventually went back and earned a degree in Geography, but only after he had established himself as.an NBA superstar. Golf’s Tiger Woods, who attended Stanford, has yet to earn a degree, although he is listed among the university’s “notable” alumni. (According to Stanford spokesman Jim Young, receiving a degree is not a prerequisite for official alumni status.)
All too often, athletic excellence is viewed as precluding academic excellence. And, while Lin may not participate in any formal, mutual embrace with those eager to induce a sea change in the way young minds undertake their hero worship, he’s not shy about touting his academic credentials. In fact, Lin has a popular YouTube video on how to get into Harvard, which has received nearly 1.5 million views.
A superstar on the basketball court, Lin may present the latest opportunity to put a sports star’s face on the need to bring more students into the STEM fold, showing up-and-coming graduates that pursuing their passion doesn’t mean they need to abandon the maths and sciences.
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