As a nation, it is imperative that we make science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education a top priority to address the national STEM workforce shortage and to remain competitive in the 21st century economy. A constant supply of well-trained STEM workers is essential to meeting the goals of finding ways to multiply the impact of investments, supporting organizations that assist underserved populations and use technology in innovative ways to scale their reach to more people.
The U.S. faces an increasing shortage in the STEM workforce. Employment in STEM is expected to grow 17 % by 2018, while the number of college graduates in STEM fields continues to decline. In 2009, just 18 % of bachelor’s degrees awarded were in STEM fields, down 24 % from two decades ago. Further, the gender and racial gap within the STEM workforce is widening. Women comprise 50% of the college-educated workforce, but only 14% of engineers are women and just 27% are in computer science and math positions. Ethnic diversity is negligible with only 6 % of STEM workers being Hispanic and African American.
Traditionally, motivating students to pursue STEM has involved increasing math and science project-based learning in schools. While that may increase basic knowledge and skills, it may not increase interest in STEM. Studies show that the number one reason that students do not pursue STEM career pathways is that they simply do not know about them. One might refer to this as the interest gap.
To help address these gaps in the STEM education pipeline, Thinking Media has launched Learning Blade®, an interactive, web-based STEM curriculum focused on increasing student interest in and attitudes towards STEM careers. The system begins its work at the middle school level when students are most likely to develop a strong preference towards technology and their future career path. In an entertaining game-based format—aligned with academic standards—students pursue engaging missions that solve real-world STEM problems while learning about STEM careers. Learning Blade aims to be an effective resource useful to the entire teaching staff, including language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science teachers. Learning Blade has garnered national attention and has been validated for increasing interest in STEM careers by Battelle and listed as a resource for STEM by ACT, Inc.
Why Young Women Should Study STEM
The number of women in science and engineering is declining alarmingly. Among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to say that they intend to major in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). The rapid increase in the number of girls achieving high scores on mathematics tests once thought to measure innate ability suggests that cultural factors are at work. Increases in the number of girls identified as “mathematically gifted” suggests that education can and does make a difference at the highest levels of mathematical achievement. While biological gender differences are yet to be well understood and may play a role, they are not the whole story.
Expanding and developing the STEM workforce is a critical issue for government, industry leaders, and educators and women serve as a large potential pool for this. Despite the tremendous gains that girls and women have made in education and the workforce during the past 50 years, progress has been uneven, and certain scientific and engineering disciplines remain overwhelmingly male. Women are 50% of the national workforce but they are only 24% of the STEM workforce. Women often drop off from STEM careers even after they are in the professions at the rate of 50% within the first 10 years. For those that express an interest in STEM entering college, 44% of boys express this and only 15% of girls do. For every 8 boys that plan to pursue STEM or Technology only 1 girl does.
Today, women typically make 77 cents to a dollar for men for most careers, but for STEM careers the wage disparity is 92 cents to a dollar. Therefore besides the obvious reasons why women should major in STEM, the economic implications are profound.
Recent studies have revealed that from 2004 to 2014, the share of bachelor’s degrees earned by women decreased in all seven science and engineering disciplines. The biggest decrease was in the computer sciences, where the share of bachelor’s degrees earned by women dropped five percentage points. In all years studied, women earned the majority of bachelor’s degrees in biological and agricultural sciences and social sciences and psychology.
Efforts are being made to impact these numbers all across the country. One of the most important is to make sure that students particularly girls need to be exposed to STEM Careers, which is often highlighted as the number one reason that students to not pursue STEM Careers. Additionally, women prefer career paths where they are helping people and society and often STEM is not taught in that context. Creative ways to expose women and girls to these careers can and will lead to an increase in women in STEM. Another way to impact this is through mentoring. Those that can be exposed to successful women in STEM also can and will contribute to this increase. The Million Women Mentors® national initiative provides a way to aggregate and encourage mentoring of girls and women in STEM.
Role models and mentors, at any age, at any stage of their academic/professional journey, and in any geographical location, have the ability to break stereotypes of all kinds and inspire youth to cultivate and ultimately pursue their passions in STEM fields. Supporting role models and mentors to create this impact in statewide settings, as well through in-person and online environments, can lead to additional girls and women in the STEM careers.
Gordon, E. (’09). The Global Talent Crisis. The Futurist, 43(4) Sept/Oct: 34-39, as quoted by www.att.com/Common/about_us/files/pdf/aspire/att_aspire_stem
The White House Council on Women & Girls, April 2012 . The Key to an Economy Built to Last.
STEMconnector® and TCS, Education & Careers in the U.S., December 2013. http://www.tcs.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/ White-Papers/Future-Computer-Science-2.pdf
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