Encouraging students to choose a career in STEM
It takes a village to nurture the next generation of great thinkers.
PHOTO COURTESY: Pexels.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs are expected to grow by 8.8 per cent by 2029. However, the White House reports that only 20 per cent of high school graduates are actually prepared for college-level STEM coursework. Meanwhile, studies show that even those who have shown an initial interest in STEM—women especially—later found themselves feeling discouraged before choosing to switch out of the course.
One way to close the pipeline is for educators to instill interest and nurture a passion for STEM as soon as possible. Here are some ways we can foster the new generation of STEM professionals.
As it is, STEM coursework can appear complicated to beginners. When taught purely theoretically, numbers, laws, and binary codes can get muddled. Instead of simply teaching kids by asking them to listen or read, educators should include hands-on learning opportunities for students. By doing so, they are able to activate several areas of the brain that facilitate problem-solving, creativity, and retention.
Among one of the biggest reasons that STEM is not more pursued is lack of diverse representation. Even today, the gender and race gap in STEM is startling. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, when looking at PhDs across all disciplines awarded to women in 2017/2018, nearly 59 per cent went to white women. Black women made up about 9 per cent of the recipients, Hispanics 8 per cent, and Indigenous women 0.4 per cent.
If you zoom in on STEM PhDs, the numbers get even smaller. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics from 2017 suggests that worldwide, only about a third of all doctoral degrees in science, engineering and/or health are held by women.
As early as possible, educators need to communicate that STEM is for everyone. Introduce students to STEM “heroes” from all walks of life, like Faiza Mohammed al-Kharafi, the first woman to lead a major university in the Middle East, or Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and Colorado State University professor with autism. Normalizing equality and inclusivity in STEM at a young age mean kids grow up free from societal prejudices that may deter them.
When non-STEM professionals were surveyed by the Pew Research Center, the top reason they said they did not pursue STEM was due to cost and time barriers. The fact that STEM courses in college tend to run more years also equates to higher fees and bigger loans.
Thankfully, there are many scholarship opportunities available. For instance, there is the UNCF STEM Scholars Program for African-American high schoolers, and Women Forward in Technology Scholarship Program for any women attending U.S. accredited universities. Aside from this, the Department of Education has invested $540 million in K-12 and collegiate level STEM programs. Make sure to share these avenues of assistance with your students and their guardians, too.
It takes a village to nurture the next generation of great thinkers. Therefore, make sure that even beyond the classroom walls, their STEM dreams are supported. To illustrate, studies show that girls show more interest in STEM if their parents and teachers communicate with them about possible courses.
If possible, it can also be beneficial to go on field trips. A 2018 study found that students who went on multiple trips recorded improvements in math and reading. Other studies say that students feel more compelled to pursue higher education when they are exposed to the concrete reality of otherwise abstract teachings. Because of budget restrictions, not many schools get to go on such trips. This is where your local community can step up and donate (or volunteer their time!) to make these rewarding trips happen.
The opportunities in the field of STEM are more promising than ever. It is up to us to ensure that our children have opportunities to pursue these prospects with all the confidence and encouragement they deserve.
Written for werepstem.com by Rachel Jill.