Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The STEM-Quality Connection Minefield

Paul Borawski’s latest blog entry welcomes the new Influential Voices blogger (thanks for the invite!) and tries to stir up interest in STEM as a lead-in to the designated Engineer’s Week coming up in a couple of weeks. Well written blog and it provides a human element of Paul that a typical ASQ member does not often see. 
I came into the quality field quite by accident.  For the first twelve years of my professional working life (after my B.S. in Accounting) I was a serving Army officer.  I served in logistical units where customer service was ingrained in me. I left the Army after Desert Storm I and went back to my alma mater (University of Delaware) to get an Operations Research degree.  I too, liked the language of math but was more interested in the business applications.  During my two and a half year graduate program I struggled to find a full-time job.  Finally, I was told to get a certification; APICS or ASQ fit my background best and since my wife was supporting the family I chose the path of least resistance.  More on my certification path in a future post.  In less than a month after passing the ASQ CQE, I landed my first quality job. I have been loyal to ASQ since.  As a square peg, I have been told I can talk like an engineer but I do not have the formal training of one.
Fast forward to my current career as a Master Black Belt supporting a large (500+ military & civilian workforce) quality organization in a nuclear shipyard.  I was hired because I am not an engineer and there are a BUNCH of engineers here.  Unfortunately, the bulk of the engineers have fallen into the Rickover effect:  verbatim compliance, creativity not welcome in a highly regulated environment.  My role is as a square peg because it allows me to push buttons and move engineers to step outside their training and think creatively and in systems. 
I do agree with Paul that STEM is a valuable resource.  I don’t agree that STEM, although a foundation of quality, should be the primary or preferred entry point into quality.  My sister is a nurse (BSN from Delaware).  She spent at least five years in her hospital’s performance improvement group.  Why did she get the job?  She was honest, willing to identify problems as they occur, and ALWAYS had the patient’s best interest in mind.  There are a number of quality professionals who have little or no background in STEM.  What makes them good quality practitioners?  A clue can be found the Fundamental Principles of ASQ’s Code of Ethics. 
As I keep telling my boss (he is especially partial to Hokie engineers) there are other fish in the sea and a steady diet on the same type of fish leads to a less rich world of experiences.  Let us celebrate STEM, but not to the exclusion of the others out there who took a non-traditional path into quality.

Until next time!
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