Solving Problems That Matter (And Getting Paid For It): STEM Careers in Social Innovation and Global Sustainable Development

Book Review by Patrick Lennahan

Mehta, K. (Ed.). (2015). Solving Problems That Matter (And Getting Paid For It): STEM Careers in Social Innovation and Global Sustainable Development. Self-published in the United States of America by Khanjan Mehta: available in both Kindle and paperback formats. File size: 13350 KB; 374 pages.

Simply upon opening the pages of Solving Problems That Matter (And Getting Paid For It), the reader is more than impressed with how much information is contained in this book. It is a comprehensive, steady flow of information covering every important aspect of this topic without ever becoming overwhelming. The expert briefs and profiles of innovators, show readers how they can change the world and earn a living. The well-qualified editor, Khanjan Mehta, is the founding director of the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) Program and Assistant Professor of Engineering Design at Pennsylvania State University. He has led technology-based social ventures in Kenya, Tanzania, India, Mozambique, Zambia, Sierra Leone, and other countries. These ventures range from telemedicine systems and ruggedized biomedical devices to affordable greenhouses and solar food dryers. Mehta and his writers do not waste a moment, but start spreading their message about STEM careers in social innovation and global sustainable development from the very opening pages.

Sections of Content

In compiling this book, Mehta has gathered a select group of eight college students and recent graduates to make up the Editorial Team, all of whom have their roots at Penn State and HESE. The information they have gathered is presented in 54 individually authored expert briefs and 100 profiles of STEM innovators on the job. The contents are divided into seven parts and an epilogue:

Part 1 STEM for Social Innovation: The Time Is NOW!
(Current trends and the role of STEM in societal improvements)

Part 2 Organizations in the Social Innovation and Sustainable Innovation Arena
(A review of the types of organizations, what they do, and how they do it)

Part 3 Innovator Profiles
(100 two-page profiles of innovators, with job descriptions and career trajectories)

Part 4 Professional Preparation
(Review of undergraduate and graduate majors and degrees, plus selective programs such as theFulbright, Peace Corps and Teach for America)

Part 5 Professional Competencies
(The usefulness of a personal brand, an entrepreneurial mindset, fieldwork, storytelling, communicating across cultures, learning languages, and writing well)

Part 6 Finding Your Niche
(Developing new career opportunities and leaving other ones behind)

Part 7 Personal Considerations
(Salaries, benefits, work culture, considerations for LGBTQ issues; settling into and getting out of other countries; exit and emergency plans)

Epilogue: Marching Orders for Professors and Universities
(Select advice for educators offered by the innovators profiled).

Each of the seven parts holds a small collection of brief papers, most of which give very pointed advice on a specific topic, often presented in 2-3 pages of numbered points. This makes it very easy to skim through the topics in the various parts and decide which are pertinent to the individual reader, because not all of them will be useful. If one gets to the middle of a part and finds that the content is not personally relevant, it is simple enough to jump to the next brief or part. This helps to keep the reader interested and engaged, which isn’t always easy when the primary topics have to do with the technical aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). However, the presentation of multiple topics in each part also shows how they are all interconnected. For example, Part 2 begins with a very thorough overview of the different kinds of organizations in social innovation and sustainable development, defining the players and putting them into context. This is followed by briefs on social entrepreneurship, relief and development, the nonprofit sector, starting your own Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), the role of large corporations, universities as economic and social development hubs, and academia as a base for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Suggested Audiences

Solving Problems That Matter speaks to those interested in these topics at all levels. The audiences for the book should start with the K-12 students, faculty, guidance counselors, and parents who are dealing with the issues and information of STEM fields in the formative stages. Interest in and commitment to STEM careers, social innovation and sustainable development starts, and should be cultivated, long before the students get to college. Undergraduate and graduate students and their advisors are the book’s primary audience and they will learn about the multitude of career paths and opportunities in personal terms from the individual stories of the 100 innovator profiles. These stories include the Career Trajectory of each innovator, sometimes starting with seeds planted in childhood and developing through professional life. There is a consistent message of change, growth and happenstance as these individuals explore and take advantage of new opportunities in their careers. The profiles are organized to present work done in:

  • Multilateral Organizations
  • Government Agencies
  • Nonprofit Organizations
    • International Multi-Sector NGOs
    • Geographical or Sectoral Focus
    • Foundations
    • Education System
    • Professional Associations and Support Organizations
  • For-Profit Organizations
    • Large Corporations
    • Small and Medium Enterprises; Startups
    • Consulting Firms
  • Fourth Sector Organizations

Why Read and Recommend This Book?

This book is a look at many of the STEM career pathways for students and recent graduates who want to change the world, while it also plants the seeds for new and ever more imaginative pathways. Having pursued engaging experiences through their academic programs, these developing professionals now want to pursue work in the “real world” that has an impact. The purpose of this book is to inform, develop and give hope to the people who will, in Mehta’s words, “find practical and sustainable ways to improve the human condition.” Solving Problems That Matter does not portray every possible career path related to the STEM fields, but it does provide a starting point for anyone’s personal conversation in social innovation and sustainable development, as well as guide movement into an exciting professional future. Solving Problems That Matter is well worth the time it takes to read and the modest expense of procuring this extremely valuable book.



Patrick J. Lennahan

Patrick Lennahan, MCC, GCDF, is a Career Advisor in the Center for Career and Experiential Education at the University of Rhode Island. He maintains a private practice in career counseling, coaching and assessment in southeastern New England.  He has also been an adjunct professor in the Holistic Counseling program at Salve Regina University, teaching Career Counseling in the MA/CAGS program. He has worked in career services in higher education at six institutions for more than 35 years.  He holds a BA in Psychology from Seton Hall University and completed doctoral studies in Counseling and Student Personnel Administration at Cornell University.  He is recognized as a Master Career Counselor and a Global Career Development Facilitator.  He has served as Associate Editor of NCDA's Career Convergence web magazine in charge of the Post-Secondary Department for the past 11 years.  He may be contacted at plennahan@uri.edu

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1 Comment

Paul Timmins   on Monday 02/29/2016 at 04:28 PM

Thanks for reviewing this, Patrick. I'm intrigued by a resource that might help us to challenge students to think about STEM opportunities in new ways -- especially connecting to global issues that matter to all of us, regardless of what country we live in.

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