Why STEM Education Is Important For Everyone

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—STEM, and therefore, STEM education—are vital to our future—the future of our country, the future of our region and the future of our children. Besides, STEM is everywhere; it shapes our everyday experiences.

Have you considered how often we experience STEM in our lives? Science is our natural world— sun, moon and stars…lands and oceans…weather, natural disasters, the diversity of nature, animals (large, small, microbial)…plants and food…the fuel that heats our homes and powers transportation…The list is almost endless. In today’s world, technology means computers and smartphones, but it goes back to television, radio, microscopes, telegraph, telescopes, the compass, and even the first wheel. Yes, engineering designs buildings, roads, and bridges, but it also tackles today’s challenges of transportation, global warming and environment-friendly machines, appliances and systems. We only have to look around to see what improvements to our lives and our homes have been engineered in the last decade alone. We encounter mathematics at the grocery store, the bank, on tax forms, in dealing with investments and the family budget. Every other STEM field depends on mathematics. STEM is important, because it pervades every aspect of our lives.

Let’s consider how STEM effects what is closest and dearest to us—our children. STEM is their future—the technological age in which they live, their best career options, and their key to wise decisions. In 2009, the United States Department of Labor listed the ten most wanted employees. Eight of those employees were ones with degrees in the STEM fields: accounting, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, information sciences and systems, computer engineering, civil engineering, and economics and finance. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, while others are growing at 9.8%. Health care workers with associate degrees to doctors of medicine will average 20% more in life time earnings than peers with similar degrees in non-health care. A glance at 2010 starting salaries for engineers with $47,145 for civil engineers to $60,054 for chemical engineers is strong evidence that STEM related jobs can be financially rewarding careers for our children.

Likewise, according to the U. S. Labor Department, the 10 fastest growing occupations) from 2008-2018, and their median wages are

  • Biomedical engineers, $77,400
  • Network systems and data communications analysts, $71,100
  • Home health aides, $20,460
  • Personal and home care aides, $19,180
  • Financial examiners, $70,930
  • Medical scientists, except epidemiologists, $72,590
  • Physician assistants, $81,230
  • Skin care specialists, $28,730
  • Biochemists and biophysicists, $82,840
  • Athletic trainers, $39,640

And, arguably, all of these are STEM careers!

Another compelling argument is that STEM careers are truly “helping” professions that build communities and transform nations. These professionals are in charge of solving the complex problems of today’s world and its future. They are working to find solutions for global warming, cancer, third world hunger, disappearing habitats, and an interdependent world economy. Yesterday’s stereotype of the ‘geek’ in a lab coat is not representative of today’s STEM teams, where economists work with researchers on technical transfer and engineers build the state-of-the-art equipment for businesses working with cutting-edge technologies. STEM careers are both challenging and fun— people in them enjoy going to work every day.

For our region, investing in the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics makes sense for local large technology firms like Cerner, Garmin, and Sprint, the center of the Animal Health Corridor, five international engineering firms, and a large life sciences industry. The Kansas City region’s challenge in recruiting new STEM professionals is daunting, in the face of competing with known areas like the Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. Local firms are finding it difficult to recruit the STEM professionals they need to continue to be successful in today’s ever-changing business environment. Yet, STEM careers are clearly what fuels the regional economy.

According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, Kansas and Missouri will need 185,000 additional people completing post-secondary degrees by 2018. From community colleges, to technical universities like DeVry, to state institutions like UMKC, the University of Kansas, K-State Olathe, and private colleges like Rockhurst, William Jewell, Avila and others, the region has the capacity to produce more trained individuals. Introducing our young children and current students to STEM opportunities and getting them engaged and excited about seeking advanced schooling in these areas is essential to meet these demands.

If the United States is to maintain its global leadership and competitive position, then we just have to motivate our most promising students into the STEM fields. Science has been identified as a national priority, but science teachers can’t do it all on their own. Parents have to become more interested and knowledgeable. A 2008 survey by USA Today showed that only 26% of those surveyed believe that they have a good understanding of science. Forty-four percent could not identify a living scientist. Our students are not stacking up with other developed countries. In calling for common standards as early as 2009, Representative George Miller of California, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, made this statement during a hearing “We all know the statistics—we’ve fallen to 21st in math achievement, 25th in science, and 24th in problem solving. We used to be No. 1 in college completion. Now we are 18th.”

There is yet another reason why STEM education is so important. Every election depends on choosing leaders who know how to base decisions on sound economics and how to evaluate statistics. So many local and state referendums depend on both scientific and economic knowledge.

Because STEM is so important for our children, our region and our country, we need to encourage the students currently in our educational systems, as well as future generations of students, to understand and embrace the technology that affects them every day of their lives. Students should be advised on the merits of taking as many math and science courses in middle and high school as possible. And these courses need to be taught by engaged and enthusiastic teachers using hands-on and minds-on activities. Making science and math courses fun and interesting will not only help students to learn, but might also plant the “seed of interest” that could grow into an exciting and rewarding STEM career.