Kelvin Beachum is one of the more interesting people sitting at the center of sports, education and innovation. He is an offensive tackle for the New York Jets, a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education advocate, an investor, a philanthropist, and a family man. Some of Beachum’s passions came early in life, others blossomed later as he was introduced to new people and new opportunities. He was lucky enough to grow up in a loving household that exposed him to things that matter, and instilled in him a desire to make a difference. Today he is arguably the most active and engaged professional athlete when it comes to the intersection of STEAM education, innovation, and sports.
As I explore the world of STEAM education and sports, I am hoping to talk to reach out to key people in that world to understand what brought them there, what impact they are having, and where we might go next. Recently I had a chance to discuss all of this with Beachum by phone and email before he had to show up for minicamps and begin the long warm up to what will be his seventh NFL season.
Jesse Lovejoy: You have an interesting story behind your interest in and love for STEAM, rooted in your childhood and your dad’s profession. Would you mind sharing it with us? How has that interest grown and evolved over the years to where it is now?
Kelvin Beachum: My grandfather, who is blind, has worked on cars all his life. He passed his love of automotive and the characteristics of discipline and hard work down to his son , who dropped out of school after 8th grade to work for the family business. Together, they have worked on cars for most of their lives, and made professions out of this work. If I told them they apply STEAM principles to their daily lives, they wouldn’t believe me. Often, it’s hard for people to make the correlation that the science and math principles they learn in the classroom apply to their biggest interests and hobbies. The reality is, everybody can go pro in STEAM—and furthermore, when you realize all that STEAM encompasses, you discover you can build a successful STEAM career out of something you are passionate about. I have a passion for technology, cars, agriculture, drones, and robotics. I see the opportunities that await those who can pursue those disciplines. I am an advocate for STEAM education, particularly in regards to providing access and opportunity for underserved, minority populations. I am also an investor who focuses my attention toward drones, robotics, and B2B technologies. STEAM is everywhere. It’s innovation, it’s creativity, it’s advancement. I may be a professional athlete, but I also feel strong ties to the STEAM disciplines.
Lovejoy: Why is STEAM education such an important issue to address? Further, why do you feel sports can be such a great conduit to inspiring and motivating young people to pursue (and excel) in these subjects?
Beachum: Something I always say is: Everybody can’t go pro in football, but everybody can go pro in STEAM. Like I mentioned earlier, there are endless career opportunities within the STEAM principles. Two of the biggest in-demand jobs in 2018 are biomedical engineer and computer software engineer. The demand for software engineers is expected to grow more than 17 percent by 2022 and more than 23 percent for biomedical engineers. And STEAM goes way beyond just engineering. It’s important to listen to students about what their passions are and find a way to make the correlation to math and science and technology. For students who are interested in gaming or esports, there are graphic design, computer coding, and esports opportunities they can explore. Students who are passionate about sports but might fall short of making a career out of being an athlete can pursue sports information or IT jobs within the sports industry. We’ve got to highlight the common denominator.
Lovejoy: Can you tell us a little about some of the specific work that you do around STEAM? We know you are serious about this movement and get involved in a number of different initiatives.
Beachum: I’ve spoken about the importance of STEAM education, so the next step is leveling the playing field so that all students have access and opportunity. It’s no secret that schools and classrooms are perennially underfunded. It’s even worse in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with high minority populations. I feel strongly that these students deserve access to the resources, opportunities, and information to help them grow, succeed, and pursue these disciplines. It’s not enough to make college the only dream. We need students planning and striving for college and career paths. I formally adopted the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas in 2015. Through this adoption, I help support their robotics program, fund STEAM related field trips and college visits, and provide a speaker series with community leaders and professionals in tech and business. I partner with great companies like Chevron and American Airlines to provide opportunity to students in the form of labs, scholarships, and facility tours. I’ve implemented a three-day STEAM camp in my hometown of Mexia, [Texas] in partnership with UT Tyler to expose the entire district to STEAM programming and activities highlighting these principles, and funded teacher resource centers to districts across the country to equip classrooms with resources and supplies at no cost to the teachers. Even when students are pursuing STEAM career paths, I work with organizations like [the Information and Technology Senior Management Forum] to help provide additional training and mentorship for career growth and advancement. I’m always looking for impactful, sustainable ways to establish a pipeline of curriculum, programming, and opportunity from kindergarten all the way through career.
Lovejoy: You have clearly set a path for yourself—while currently active in the NFL—to define your career after you finishing beating up defensive linemen. What drives you to think this way?
Beachum: Football has blessed me with tremendous opportunity and a stellar platform, but football doesn’t last forever. Aside from being an athlete, investor, and philanthropist, there are two hats that I wear that reign supreme: husband and father. I have a passion for football and business, but it also comes down to generational wealth and making sure I can provide long-term for my family. Making it to the National Football League was a goal of mine. But it’s not my only goal. I want to be successful in business. I want to learn something new every day. I want to develop new skills.
Lovejoy: If players are interested in getting involved in supporting educational initiatives with their clubs (or in their respective sports, if they’re not in the NFL), what would you suggest?
Beachum: I’m a trench guy. I do my best work in the trenches. I would tell them to get out in the community; hit the streets. Visit schools. Have conversations with administrators and ask them what their needs are. Cultivate a network of people who have the same vision or mission and collaborate. Identify the problems, and find ways to implement solutions.
Lovejoy: Are there any particular brands, companies or organizations that are doing a particularly good job of using their platforms to marry STEAM and sports? Good benchmarks for other folks interested in doing similar work to follow?
Beachum: 49ers EDU and the 49ers Museum. [The 49ers] realized that STEAM is engrained in the dynamics and history of football, as well as the stadium itself, and has dedicated space within Levi’s Stadium to educate students from around the San Francisco area on the countless ways football and STEAM overlap. It is the perfect way to make this correlation on a grand scale.
Lovejoy: Where do you think we all need to go, and on what things do we need to focus to better prepare our learners for their futures?
Beachum: I think we need to start earlier. Education is a long cycle. If we can engage and educate students earlier, there is a greater chance they develop a passion for pursuing [STEAM]. Furthermore, they have more time to specialize their academic journey to properly prepare them to compete at every level. If they can develop a strong foundation from a young age, just imagine how much further they can go with outside opportunities or access that athletes, philanthropists or outside organizations can provide.