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STEM According to Mr. Rogers



By Jeremy Shorr, Director of Digital Innovation and Early Learning for TIES

“The most important learning is the ability to accept and expect mistakes, and deal with the disappointments that they bring” – Fred Rogers

The only time I ever made my mother cry was because of Mr. Rogers.

Overall, I was a pretty well-behaved kid. Like anyone, however, I had my moments. When I was five, I got in trouble for not listening and, defiantly told my mom, “Yeah, well MR. ROGERS likes me JUST THE WAY I AM!”.

That unwavering support in the face of failure was a cornerstone of Fred Rogers’ belief system. It is a big part of why I am willing to take risks in my adult life. My loving parents were the biggest influences in my young life, but Mr. Rogers continues to impact my thinking 35 years later.

Fred Rogers has been in the news a lot in the past couple of years. Between last year’s documentary and this year’s feature film (starring Tom Hanks), I seem to hear those familiar piano riffs tugging at my memories regularly. For me, however, his presence has never left. I think it is very possible that Mr. Rogers is one of the best humans to have ever lived and his heart and words have guided my entire life.

Life lessons can be learned from Fred, but the STEM community has a lot to gain from The Neighborhood, too. Here are five of my favorites.

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else”

We talk a lot in the STEM world about both the discrete skills of STEM and the transferable skills that help everyone, regardless of vocation or avocation. The end of a project not only opens up the opportunity to engage in a new project, but it brings with it lessons that carry forth to future work.

“What do you do with the mad that you feel?”

When something we’re working on doesn’t work, it is okay to get angry. But then we take that anger and funnel it into finding a solution or finding the next iteration. Don’t let frustration and anger sink you, let it give you the drive and energy to make things even better.

“Someday you’ll be a grown-up too.”

Our job is to make sure that our children are prepared to be positive and productive members of our communities. However, the inverse is true too. Adults were once children and would benefit from remembering the wonder, creativity, and problem solving inherent in the youngest members of our society.

“Did you know that when you wonder, you’re learning?”

Do you have children? Grandchildren? Young neighbors or friends? Watch them as they move through the world. I remember watching my daughter spend nearly an hour exploring a single leaf when she was a toddler. When I remember that lesson and make sure that I allow myself the time to think and explore. When I take time to wonder, I am filled with solutions to new (and often unrelated) problems and fresh ideas for my personal, volunteer, and professional lives.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond.”

The STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice is filled with responders. Twice a year I am blown away by the ways that this community comes together to meet the needs of young people around the world. This isn’t something that any of us can do alone, but together we can make a difference that will ripple through our communities and beyond.