Preparing Our Children For Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)

What do these professionals have in common: robotics engineer, forensic scientist, HVAC technician, and a videogame designer?

They are all examples of a large group of STEM professionals, a group that as a whole are “in demand.” The acronym STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. There has been a lot of attention on STEM recently. Why should STEM be important to you? According to the STEM Education Coalition, there are 26 million STEM jobs in the US. Not only do STEM jobs support and grow the economy, they are lucrative. For example, the annual mean salary for engineers is $79,000, close to double the mean salary for all occupations.

Fact: US ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among industrialized nations. Only 16% of US high school seniors are proficient in math and are interested in a STEM career. (ed.gov)

Scientists and engineers create innovations that drive our nation’s competitiveness in the current high-tech, global economy.

However, the challenge lies in preparing current students to be ready for these jobs. Not enough students are being prepared with the proficiency needed for STEM careers, and there is a shortage of teachers to equip them. In addition, there are sections of our communities that remain “untapped” as a rich resource to address the STEM crisis. For example only 4% of Engineering Bachelor’s degrees awarded are being earned by African Americans. By 2022, 9 out of 10 new engineering jobs will require at least a Bachelor’s degree. The crisis is also felt by employers who are unable to fill many lucrative positions due to a lack of qualified workers. 60% of US employers report having difficulties finding qualified workers to fill their vacancies. The STEM Education Coalition which includes large corporations and education organizations, spread the word that the “nation’s future economic prosperity is closely linked with student success in the STEM fields.” STEM is where they see the economy headed and it is also the skillset that students will need.

While entry into these fields most often requires a Bachelor’s degree or higher, preparing children to be ready for future STEM opportunities can begin as early as grade school. Parents can encourage children in STEM with a strategy that includes exposure, vision, and confidence.

Here is a list of practical ways to encourage your child right now to prepare him or her for future stem opportunities.

Confidence: Adopt a can-do attitude about math achievement.

  • Math is used in STEM fields as an important tool. It is used to explain things that are observed in nature, predict what will happen next, to apply science and design new inventions. It is a wonderful tool that will benefit children greatly if they adopt a can-do attitude while learning this subject.
  • Model a can-do attitude to them. Let them know it is okay to spend more time on math or to put more work in. It simply does not mean they are incapable in math if they do not get the answer right the first time.
  • Learning math is like building an unused muscle. It may seem difficult at first, but repetitive practice does make perfect. Math builds upon itself like a tower of blocks. Once mastered at one level, it provides a foundation for building the next level. Without one level, building is limited for the next. The good news is – this work in math achievement does pay off! Like riding a bike, once math skills are obtained, they are retained for life.
  • Have your child take part in all opportunities that strengthen math performance, be it remedial, extra practice on grade-level, or advanced offerings. They should feel proud and expect their hard work to pay off. Soon they will confidently be able to flex their math muscles and use them for life. Their hard work will pay off with confidence now and excellent preparation for the future.

Fact: Only 3 in 10 African American students who have the potential to succeed in AP math actually take the course. For those who don’t take it, half reported it is not available to them and the other half reported lacking the confidence to take it. (stemedcoalition.org)

According to Ed.gov, the Obama administration states that improvements in STEM education will only happen if African Americans, Hispanics and other underrepresented groups (including women) in the STEM fields participate.

Exposure is essential to get our children interested in STEM.

  • Explore STEM creatively during the school year and in summer months by choosing one or more of these activities.
  • Take a free weekend day or afternoon to explore with your child one or more of the websites offering free interactive content and STEM activities to introduce K-12 children to programming skills such as code.org, or to interactive engineering profession, such as engineering go for it. Do a google search for more.
  • Take advantage of some of the optional opportunities to explore STEM offered at your child’s school. Meet with your child’s teacher or counselor to express your interest in having your child participate in robotics or science clubs, fairs and fieldtrips. Take steps to make
    this happen.
  • Make plans now to register for a summer STEM camp. It’s not too early to research the options. STEM summer camps are offered at local universities, museums, community clubs and centers, among others. Registration for some camps open as early as January and many fill up quickly.
  • Invite one or more like-minded parents to combine forces and work together to share information and resources for your children to explore STEM together.