This month, we’re highlighting the topic of Education by asking some of our speaker experts to share their thoughts on where they believe we are heading.
Today’s guest blog comes from Rocket Scientist & Advocate for Women in Technology Natalie Panek. As a Member of Technical Staff at MDA’s Robotics and Automation division, she works on the next generation of Canadian space robotics and exploration programs. Natalie is passionate about lifelong learning through experiences removed from your comfort zones. Her presentation ‘Learning Should Know No Boundaries’ illustrates how the on-going pursuit of knowledge should take place throughout life and across an array of experiences.
I am a Rocket Scientist. Adventurer. Explorer. Pilot. But of all these labels, the only one that really matters is that of a lifelong learner. I grew up in the Canadian Rockies and spent almost every weekend outdoors. Camping, hiking, and fishing was in my blood. It fostered in me a natural curiosity for what was in my own backyard and an interest in understanding how things work on a basic level. As I grew older, this spark of curiosity was encouraged in high school by a physics teacher. She challenged me to think deeply about the subject matter and to always attempt more difficult work. She instilled a confidence that made me believe I could solve any problem and made physics exciting, opening my eyes to the possibilities of a life built around engineering and science.
Possibility inspires us to continuously push boundaries in pursuit of the unknown, searching for a deeper understanding of the universe. And while we can learn a lot through textbooks, some of my most rewarding learning experiences have been hands-on. Projects where I literally got my hands dirty such as helping build a solar powered car that we raced across North America, analyzing small flames in a combustion chamber after designing and setting up my own experimental hardware, or building and testing hardware for a Mars rover.
Each of these pursuits presented two paths forward: either flounder in fear and vulnerability or learn to thrive in an unfamiliar situation (fear and vulnerability are completely natural but overcoming those emotions, or at least taking an initial leap despite fear, can open so many doors for learning). The on-going pursuit of knowledge should take place throughout life and across an array of experiences. And because of ever advancing technology and modes of communication it is so much easier to learn and expand our foundations of nearly any subject. Regardless of your interests, learning and the goals we choose to pursue should know no boundaries.
Learning without boundaries often means embracing opportunities outside your comfort zone, or in other words, learning by doing. Participating in experiential learning projects that harness multidisciplinary collaboration are the future of education. Failure should never be frowned upon. This could be anything from participating in Maker Fairs to First Robotics competitions to playing around with Arduinos.
Literally building, tinkering, experimenting, inventing, and troubleshooting when things go wrong (and trust me, they do!). Try to break down challenge into accessible steps so that the entire effort becomes conceivable. Beyond this, have the confidence to discuss your goals and ambitions when you meet the people who inspire you. One facet of lifelong learning is extracting knowledge and experience from others and seeing value in their lessons learned. Surround yourself with teams who can teach you things you do not know to develop new skills.
Developing skills, talents, and competence is a lifelong process. We should constantly look for opportunities to learn something new and push our limits, whether personally or professionally. Be drawn to the rewards of challenge and learning, because the incentive is the fulfillment of our dreams.
“Our dreams are what will transform the world.”