SEMI Foundation, Singapore Article

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Singapore Students Score with High Tech U—SEMI Foundation’s Program for High School Students and Teachers goes International

The SEMI Foundation reached a major milestone in March, delivering its High Tech U programs outside the U.S. for the first time. With the assistance of SEMI Southeast Asia, the SEMI Foundation delivered two programs in Singapore, one for high school teachers March 13–14, followed by a program for high school students March 15–17.

26 secondary school teachers from Christ Church Secondary, Fuchun Secondary, and Woodgrove Secondary participated in High Tech U Teacher Edition, held at UMC Singapore, while the program for 36 students from these same schools was held at Chartered and NTU.

The program was a partnership among the SEMI Foundation, Air Products, Allegro EMS, Applied Materials, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Hermes-Epitek, Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Economic Development Board, and UMC Singapore.

High Tech U, launched in 2001, introduces high school students to the science of making semiconductors and to career opportunities in high tech industries. It was created by SEMI as a way of getting more students interested in science and math and high-tech careers. The curriculum includes hands-on experiments that introduce semiconductor-manufacturing concepts and explain microchip logic, as well as sessions on educational pathways and career planning. A version for high school teachers is called High Tech U Teacher Edition. Since 2001, 41 programs have been held in 10 U.S. states and Singapore.

Goal has always been to make High Tech U international

According to SEMI Foundation Vice President Lisa Anderson, the goal for High Tech U has been to be a worldwide program. Although the High Tech U program was developed in the United States, the plan has always been to make it an international program. “SEMI is a global industry association—it’s part of the Foundation’s mission to help prepare young people everywhere for fulfilling, productive careers,” she observed.

Why Singapore made sense

The Foundation could have selected any number of locations for its first venture outside the U.S.—why Singapore? “We have been considering a number of locations in Asia and Europe, and plan to incorporate these regions in the next three-to-five years,” says Anderson. “All of the locations we’ve identified are essential high tech manufacturing centers and have exhibited a high level of enthusiasm and receptivity to our program. In the end it came down to timing. Singapore was the first to forge the industry-education community infrastructure needed to successfully deliver High Tech U. Given our success in Singapore, we firmly believe the other regions will shortly follow suit.”

"We’re extremely pleased that the first High Tech U outside the U.S. was held here in Singapore," says George C.T. Lin, president of SEMI Southeast Asia. "In the highly competitive field of microelectronics manufacturing, Singapore is renowned for its highly skilled workforce. High Tech U will help maintain this distinction. This program complements other domestic educational priorities aimed at nurturing this key competitive regional advantage."

Program embraced by government, local industry, education community

Singapore is a nation that has succeeded by continuously preparing for the future. It is no wonder that representatives of the Singapore government, industry and the education community shared an immediate affinity for High Tech U when the idea of delivering the program was first presented.

“Manufacturing is a key focus of our economy. We are constantly growing and diversifying this sector by expanding existing industries and developing new growth clusters,” says Alvin Tan, deputy director, Resource Development, Singapore Economic Development Board. “In my view the High Tech U student program can help to generate greater interest in high-tech manufacturing as well as research and development activities among the younger generation.”

“We’re proud to be a partner in High Tech U and are honored to be the first university, outside the United States to host the student program,” adds Professor Kam Chan Hin, dean of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University. “This partnership represents the industry’s recognition of NTU’s position as a global university of excellence, a beacon of knowledge, and a leader in innovative cutting-edge research, which meets real world needs.”

Anderson notes that calls for industry sponsors were met with an overwhelming response. Six companies provided varying levels of needed support.

“We liked that the program encourages students to engage with each other in the learning of math and science," says Ng Seng Huwi, vice president of Human Resources at Chartered, one of the program’s primary sponsors. “This type of learning environment captures the spirit of collaboration that has been and will continue to be important for inspiring innovation.”

Another major sponsor was UMC Singapore. “This program is an excellent example of the semiconductor industry partnering with the education system and government to prepare our young people for the future,” says P.W. Yen, company vice president. “High Tech U helps secondary school students and their teachers see the potential of careers in high tech. We were proud to be a sponsor.”

Lost in translation?

So how does a program developed in the U.S. translate in Singapore? “Excellent!” says Anderson. “I was amazed at how the High Tech U curriculum was able to move into a new culture. An example of how these cultural differences come into play is how course material is delivered by the teacher. In the U.S. our instructors tend to be highly interactive. They move about the class, asking questions, injecting humor, engaging the students as much as possible. In Singapore the teaching method tends to be more straight forward.” Two U.S. teachers, Cliff Monroe (Mission College, Santa Clara, California) and Richard Smith (Hamilton High School, Chandler, Arizona), helped present the program; the remainder of the faculty were volunteers from sponsoring companies.

“We knew going in that there were cultural differences in teaching,” says Monroe. “Our approach is to ‘loosen up’ the audience in our introductions. Like classrooms everywhere, students and teachers alike are looking at that first impression to decide whether they will get involved, listen, or even learn by how they view the instructor's knowledge and intensity. We weren’t sure this approach would work, but the response from both groups was infectious.”

Kirsten Hammond, senior manager global community affairs for Applied Materials, one of the Singapore High Tech U sponsors, was part of the onsite team. “It didn't take long for Richard and Cliff to get both the teachers and students to feel comfortable and participating,” she says.  “This supports the theory that the program is globally transportable.”

Hammond also observed a difference in how students and teachers participated.  “Whether it was because this was a new experience from America, or perhaps a reflection of the cultural reverence for education, both groups — students and teachers appeared more eager and appreciative of the workshops, and the students definitely seemed more attentive.” She noted also that parents tend to be more involved in their children’s education and that their expectations influence attitudes about learning and classroom behavior.

As to why the difference in math and science competency between the U.S. and Singapore, Hammond has some ideas. She notes that in Singapore students live in a high-tech environment where math and science are critical to success as a working adult. “Students told me that they are introduced to the ‘importance’ of math and science at earlier stages of education,” she says.  

Monroe agrees. “It’s not so much that students inherently like math and science,” he says, “There’s just such an early emphasis on these subjects. They provide the context for success as adults. Government policies, parental encouragement and social pressures create generations of students that are serious about their studies.”

Monroe also noted that a major factor contributing to the success of the program was the tremendous amount of planning that took place prior to the event. “Because this was our first attempt to deliver High Tech U outside the U.S., there was obviously a lot on the line,” he says. “The leadership, diplomacy and attention to detail provided by SEMI President Stan Myers, Lisa, and George Lin and his staff, kept the focus on learning. It made my job as a teacher a lot easier.”

A slightly different objective

According to Anderson, Singapore high school students are generally at a higher level of math and science competency than their U.S. counterparts. “While one of the primary goals of High Tech U in the U.S. is to interest kids in math and science, and give them the confidence to take more advanced courses—the goal was different in Singapore,” she says. “By the time students reach high school it has been pretty much determined who will go on to college and who won’t. Most have the necessary grounding in math and science, but, like students everywhere, some are unmotivated or ‘late bloomers’. There is still a small window of opportunity to alter the course for these individuals. Our hope in Singapore was to excite and motivate them to work up to their potential and qualify for the college track.”

Lessons for the U.S.

What lessons learned in Singapore can be applied in the U.S. in the quest to convince U.S. students about the importance of math and science? “In my view, we should expose students earlier to these subjects, as they do in Singapore,” says Hammond. “The earlier, the better. This could help minimize the view that math and science aren’t "yucky" subjects at all—they’re actually fun and exciting.”

Looking ahead

The Foundation has a busy High Tech U program schedule with a total of 14 programs slated this year. Next year plans for delivery of programs include Grenoble, France, Japan, and Singapore — as well as the U.S. “This program really sells itself,” says Anderson. “When potential sponsors and education partners see it they want to become involved.”

To keep up with growing demand for High Tech U, Anderson initiated a curriculum replication model that allows SEMI to increase the number of programs delivered by using specially trained non-SEMI staff. The replication model was developed in conjunction with Maricopa Advanced Technology Education Center (MATEC), which initially will manage regional expansion in the U.S. Southwest. MATEC participation includes student recruitment, curriculum development, volunteer instructor recruitment and training, and program delivery.

The first program to be delivered by MATEC will be held April 17–19, and is sponsored by global semiconductor technology companies Intel, ASML, and Air Products, all of which operate facilities in the greater Phoenix area. Arizona State University at the Polytechnic campus is an educational partner.

Anderson says that the High Tech U formula for curriculum development and delivery continues to be validated in the classroom. “High Tech U will succeed as long as it is high energy, fun, interactive—and relevant. It is key that we continuously align this model with evolving technology and workforce trends.”