American students are falling into a giant chasm between the classroom and the workplace.
For three days in 2012, some of the biggest and brightest stars of business and education gathered in Dallas to explore the gap between the types of technical jobs that modern industry has to offer and the ability of workers to perform those tasks. As it stands now, workers simply do not have the advanced skills that employers need. High paying job positions go unfilled, leaving empty holes where a worker should be.
The STEM Solutions 2012 Summit tried to fill in the holes and build pathways that allow students to move more freely from the classroom to the STEM-rich workplace. During the summit, NMSI President & CEO Dr. Mary Ann Rankin encouraged listeners to accelerate STEM education in a panel discussion entitled, “The Supply Side: Education and America’s STEM Future.” The panel looked at various ways to produce enough STEM graduates to satisfy corporate hunger.
Summit participants agreed it is especially important to fill those positions with women.
STEMConnector’s new publication, 100 Women Leaders in STEM, featured Dr. Rankin. Women make up 48 percent of the workforce, yet hold only 24 percent of U.S. STEM jobs. Fewer than 15 percent of American engineers are female.
In another panel discussion, Dr. Rankin focused on defining, understanding and closing the gap between the skills needed by corporations and those offered by today’s universities.
This gap begins as small crevices in early education. Student brains stagnate through boring lectures and memorize facts instead of participating in hands-on education, known to excite young minds about science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. This stagnation shows in dismal STEM scores. Barely 18 percent of high school seniors perform at proficient levels in science courses.
Weak STEM skills results in poor job prospects and low pay. A student without a solid understanding of STEM subjects cannot develop the technical skills necessary to participate in today’s job market. Employees with poor technical skills will ultimately fail in the modern, highly technical workplace.
Summit participants identified gaps between institutions, with each school adhering to slightly different standards and teaching methods. For example, a kid from one elementary school uses microscopes in the classroom while a child who attends school across town does not. These students eventually merge into a high school science class; the gap between the student with hands-on experience and the one without becomes clear quickly. This gap grows each time the students move from one institution to another, from elementary school to graduate school.
The summit called on educational institutions to fill in the gaps between elementary school, high school, college and graduate school. Many students fall into these gaps and away from careers in STEM fields. Improve each educational segment’s shared understanding of what is necessary to be “college-ready.”
MeasureNet is a prime example of educational technology that actually closes the gap between students and high paying jobs. MeasureNet puts real-world tools into the hands of students of all ages. Instead of sleeping through boring lectures, students use the same inquiry-based chemistry labs, environmental chemistry, instrumental methods, STEM and biochemistry procedures as professional scientists. MeasureNet helps students leap across the STEM chasm and land onto a great-paying job.
President Barack Obama hosts the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. The President talked with Samantha Garvey, 18, of Bay Shore, N.Y., about her environmental sciences project examining the effect of physical environment and predators on a specific species of mussel, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 7, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Administration and Private Sector Announce over $100 Million in Commitments and Additional Steps to Prepare 100,000 New Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teachers
Shots were fired in the State Dining Room on February 7, 2012, much to the delight of President Obama and the school children attending the second White House Science Fair. Joe Hudy grabbed hold of his Extreme Marshmallow Cannon and blasted a pair of curtains with extreme prejudice after allowing the president to pump up the air-powered canon. The President added power to the science project before placing the technology back into 14-year-old Arizona student’s hands. During the science fair, President Obama announced new steps aimed at putting today’s powerful technology directly into the hands of students in hopes of helping young people do better in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM.
President Obama has issued a national challenge to prepare 100,000 qualified STEM teachers within the next decade. These teachers will then, in turn, help one million students graduate with degrees in STEM fields within the next ten years.
The first step to achieving these goals included a request for $80 million for teacher preparation in the fiscal 2013 budget, sent to Congress on February 13th, 2012. This money will support effective STEM teacher training programs, such as those that allow a student to earn a teaching certificate along with a degree. Another $22 million comes from pledges by philanthropic and private sector organizations. More than 115 organizations immediately responded to President Obama’s call to action by creating a group called “100Kin10.” Fourteen of these organizations, including the Carnegie Corporation, Google and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced a $22 million fund intended to prepare and support STEM education. The future of these organizations rely on a highly educated workforce and are dedicated to improving the skills of future workers by putting state-of-the-art technology directly into the young hands of aspiring scientists.
The 100Kin10 partners have also made more than 100 individual commitments, including Race to the Top competition. President Obama believes that improving STEM education relies heavily on systemic reform on the state and local level and that these reforms should expand opportunities for hands-on learning. The Department of Education will focus on STEM criteria during the Race to the Top competition as a way to improve students’ achievements and interest in STEM studies.
It is imperative that educators put current technology into the hands of students. Students have a natural curiosity about cutting-edge technology but sometimes lose interest because the student does not connect exciting STEM careers with the boring, outdated equipment he uses in his school laboratory. Educators have the unenviable task of making this connection for the student. Products such as the Measurenet MCAN Laboratory Electronic Data Collection system makes this job easier by ensuring students are using the same technologies in the school laboratory as used in postsecondary and professional applications.
Industry leaders agree that a hands-on approach in secondary and postsecondary education will improve the standing of American companies engaged in global economic competition. Practical experience with technology and instrumentation is a valuable asset, both to students planning to go to college and to those entering the workforce directly from high school.
The White House and its partners are aiming higher when it comes to preparing students for future jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. The administration and the private sector are firing back against competitors in the global market by arming highly qualified instructors with the finest educational supplies and techniques, and by building new pathways between teachers and students. Perhaps the best ammunition for the Extreme Marshmallow Cannon was the teacher who put today’s cutting-edge technology directly into Joe Hudy’s hands.
Carl Sagan once said, “It’s suicidal to create a society that depends on science and technology in which no one knows anything about science and technology.”
The United States is slipping behind other countries in awarding postsecondary STEM degrees. Between 1998 and 2006, the total number of STEM degrees grew by 23 percent in the United States. During this same period, Poland increased its number of STEM degrees by 144 percent and Taiwan boasted a 178 percent increase. China’s number of postsecondary STEM degrees exploded by a stunning 200 percent. In 2006, China awarded nearly double the number of postsecondary STEM degrees gained in the United States. The USA needs more STEM degrees if it hopes to compete in tomorrow’s global economy.
More STEM degrees mean more STEM jobs. Increasing the number of jobs in STEM fields is critical to the economic prosperity of both individuals and communities. Generally speaking, STEM jobs are some of the highest paying positions, with wages significantly above the US average. STEM jobs represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the job market, both in the United States and globally. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of STEM jobs is expected to have grown by 17 percent.
STEM occupations are associated with lower unemployment rates when compared to other professions. Students who graduate with a STEM degree but pursue jobs in non-STEM fields also make more money than those with degrees in other fields. Cities across the nation try to attract STEM professionals because civic leaders understand that the high pay and economic stability associated with STEM jobs benefits the economic and social fabric of the community.
The main pathway to a lucrative career in STEM fields is through postsecondary education. Getting bright minds into postsecondary programs poses a two-fold challenge to secondary educators – sparking interest in pursuing further education in STEM studies and properly preparing students to engage in higher learning. In most K–12 systems today, math and science subjects seem to have little to do with the real world. Students often ask, “When will I ever use this knowledge?” Students just don’t seem interested in STEM and educational institutions fail those few students leaning towards a STEM degree.
The National Governors Association explored this challenge in the December 2011 updated version of Building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Agenda. This committee examined the goals of the STEM agenda and outlined why this agenda is so important to the states and to the nation. They identified weak links in the system and outlined strategies to implement state-wide STEM agendas in ways that excite students about STEM studies and careers while giving them the tools to succeed in gaining a degree and securing a job.
The STEM agenda has two basic goals: expand the number of students entering postsecondary STEM studies and increase STEM proficiency in the general student population. The first goal improves the technical capabilities of the nation’s workforce while the second goal helps students implement concepts and problem-solving strategies gained through STEM studies into their everyday lives.
Proficiency in STEM facts, principles and techniques are just as beneficial to future employees of big-box stores as they are to the physicians and engineers of tomorrow. Integrating STEM concepts and hands-on learning into the regular curriculum will help the general student population hone critical thinking skills to recognize, evaluate and solve problems not related to science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
This study identified five areas that states are trying to improve upon in an effort to increase the number of interested students qualified to pursue postsecondary STEM studies. Inconsistent state standards, a shortfall of qualified instructors and failure to motivate student interest all prevent students from pursuing postsecondary studies in STEM. This study also suggests that students are not prepared for postsecondary STEM study because they lack hands-on learning and experience with laboratory equipment. Worse yet, many current postsecondary STEM studies do not properly prepare students to work in STEM fields.
Fortunately, the report by the National Governors Association contains solid research that provides direction to increasing the presence of STEM tools in your learning laboratory in a way that propels your students into postsecondary studies and high paying STEM jobs. Building a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education Agenda says that several studies correlate strong preparation in high school with improved STEM degree completion rates. Furthermore, certain high school instructional practices seem to be more effective than others, including doing hands-on experiments in science. Encouraging high school students to form workgroups also improves postsecondary STEM outcomes.
Use informal learning to help students make the connection between STEM classes and real-world applications. Field trips to museums, science centers and other public and private institutions showcase job opportunities for those with degrees in STEM fields. Many of these institutions provide hands-on activities using the same equipment professionals employ. The connections between STEM classes and real-world applications are reinforced when your students can then use these same pieces of equipment in their own classroom laboratories.
The National Governors Association notes that a “student’s ability to enter and complete a STEM postsecondary degree or credential is often jeopardized because the pupil did not take sufficiently challenging courses in high school or spend enough time practicing STEM skills in hands-on activities.” Hands-on learning chemistry labs improve a student’s experience in secondary school, giving her confidence to succeed in postsecondary STEM studies or in an entry-level non-STEM career.
Our nation’s security and economic stability rest in the capable hands of exceptional educators just like you. It is up to STEM educators to expand the knowledge of science and technology not only in collegiate hopefuls but in the student population as a whole. Improve your students’ chances of success competing in a global economy by training them the same chemistry laboratory equipment that universities and professionals use.