STEM in College and Beyond: How Far Have We Come?
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education has long been a subject of discussion in education. Is there enough of it? How will we fund it? And more specifically, how can we encourage employees to stay in it, and what can be done to encourage women to enter it? We talk about STEM in elementary school, high schools, and even college, and we talk about it at all levels, from our immediate communities to the federal government.
As humans, we’re perpetually interested in the way things work. When we talk about STEM, we’re talking about the building blocks for most functions. And, while we’re usually talking about expanding STEM, we’ve still come a long way. So where exactly did this fascination begin?
A Bit of History
When Sputnik launched into space, it ignited the American spirit of competition in STEM fields. By 1958, President Eisenhower had worked with congress to establish NASA. In 1961, President Kennedy put a man on the moon and solidified our interest in science.
The 70s and 80s brought national programs dedicated to science education and a wave of innovation in both science and technology—improvements in medicine, cellular telephones, and space propelled innovation and brought us into the 90s. Then, programs like the National Science Education Standards and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics encouraged STEM education (and also introduced the SMET acronym, later changed to STEM)
The hard work paid off, and the United States became a leader in STEM education, though they’ve fallen off in more recent years. Right now, only 16% of high school students say they’re interested in STEM careers, and 57% of freshmen who declare a STEM interest will lose interest before their graduation. The estimated need for STEM workers is approximately 8.65 million, with particular gaps in the manufacturing sector.
Experts say that the future of innovation in technology in the U.S. lies in education—but is there hope?
In the 2000s, the United States recognized the need to discuss and promote STEM education. In 2005, the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a report called “Rise Above the Gathering Storm,” which emphasized the necessity of STEM careers in establishing the U.S. as a global leader. By 2009, President Obama introduced the Educate to Innovate initiative, which sought to ensure that students in the US performed well in science and math in the preceding 10 years. The initiative increased federal funding for STEM education and promised to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021. By April of 2013, we were halfway there.
Obstacles to Collegiate STEM Education
While improving STEM education seems like an obvious choice, there are several obstacles to STEM education at a collegiate level. Cost is of course a concern. A humanities course does not require a lab or lab supplies, which makes it cheaper. Colleges are hesitant to ask STEM students to pay more for their coursework, though, so who tackles the increased cost?
Part of the cost issue may be solved by solving another of STEM’s problems—that of diversity. Certain programs are financially rewarded for increasing numbers of women, disabled students, and minority students, which are historically underrepresented in STEM fields within colleges. STEM proponents say that increasing STEM at lower levels may help diversify STEM in higher education.
Finally, student retention in STEM fields at the collegiate level continues to be a problem because of stress, arduous prerequisites and complicated schedules, and traditional models of learning that don’t focus on experience. Luckily, engineering programs across the world are working to develop more student-centered curriculum that prioritizes mentorship, internships, and project-based learning.
For students who stick it out, the payoff is big. A growing market means an abundance of jobs for a shortage of employees, giving students the opportunity to be more selective upon graduating. STEM jobs tend to offer much higher starting salaries and provide pathways to career advancement that may not be available in other types of careers.
In many ways, the future of STEM education depends upon today’s engineers, who play an integral role in recruiting and mentoring the next generation of STEM employees. Innovation is as much about building relationships as it is about technical knowledge, and young STEM students can’t do it alone.
With Autodesk EAGLE, today’s engineers can be better prepared for each and every one of their projects. Students in particular need to be prepared for the complexity of the workplace and all the moving parts therein—and achieving proficiency in technical software like EAGLE could propel the STEM field forward in its entirety. Download it for free today.