Constance Alexander: What Kentucky needs is more college graduates, commitment to lifelong learning

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My parents believed girls were best suited to teaching or nursing, and boys to engineering. As a result, my oldest sister became a nurse, and my big brother went off to college as an engineering major.

The remaining three Alexander girls majored in education, mostly at my mother’s insistence that women had to have something “to fall back on,” like in the game of Monopoly, a sort of “Get out of jail free” card.

Years later, the only one who stuck with our parents’ plan was my sister Pamela. She, who could be counted on to defy almost every parental dictum, somehow discovered Special Education her sophomore year and never let go. She finally retired after about thirty years in the classroom.

As far as the rest of us, my brother abandoned his slide rule for studies in Journalism. Audrey eventually left nursing. Jeanne went on to various graduate studies over the years in Library Science, Accounting and Real Estate, all leading to good and fulfilling jobs.

I stayed in public education long enough to become a department chair, but when I realized the next step was to be a vice principal, the school disciplinarian, I started looking outside of education. From there I went to AT&T, which teemed with diverse opportunities.

After seven years of interesting and challenging jobs in a corporate environment, I realized I wanted to make a living that suited me, my professional, and my personal passions. And so I re-invented myself, set up a business consulting practice, and found creative ways to spend more time pursuing projects that included writing, the arts and humanities.

All this self-reflection is not to belabor my seemingly erratic earning history, but to react to Governor Bevin’s recent challenge to public universities about cutting academic programs that don’t fill high-demand jobs. While singing the praises of studies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and health care, he taunted majors in “interpretive dance” – which, by the way, is not even available in most Kentucky universities.

Moreover, he suggested that colleges would be well-served to acknowledge that entire parts of our current campuses “don’t need to be there.”

Well, in my humble opinion, in a state that ranks 47th among states in educational attainment, the governor needs to consider that Kentucky, flat out, needs more college grads. In addition, emphasis on lifelong learning is essential, including opportunities that attract current workers to commit to ongoing skill attainment to ensure employability.

Innovation is one route to a prosperous future. And with innovation coupled only with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects – we ignore the role of the arts in transforming our economy.

Once again, in my opinion, we need to include the arts in the equation, transforming STEM into STEAM that fuels the future economy.

For more information, log on to stemtosteam.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

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