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Part II: Tug of war: Competition for the best STEM minds

Part I of this two-part series discussed STEM industry projections and K-12 STEM education projections. Part II explores meeting all STEM needs and mining for students.

Meeting all STEM needs

Educators and parents need to beat the drums loudly in praise of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and opportunities to apply STEM skills and knowledge professionally in industry as well as education. In 21st-century households, Jobs and Gates have greater name recognition than Cousteau, Curie, Einstein, Goodall, Leakey or Sagan. Today’s headliners come from business and the allure of business is reflected by the conferring of over 350,000 undergraduate business (not MBA) degrees annually.

Part of the challenge comes from lack of understanding of the wide application of STEM skills and knowledge in all professions. Many of the cognitive abilities and non-cognitive qualities demanded by mathematics, science and engineering provide a strong foundation for success in any field. Mathematics remains the gatekeeper discipline to future educational and professional success. Students who achieve proficiency in mathematics and continue their studies as undergraduates are more likely to find and remain in high-paying professional positions.

“In 55 percent of STEM occupations, mathematics knowledge is either very important or extremely important to work in that occupation. In 31 percent of direct STEM competitor occupations, mathematics knowledge is very important …” — STEM, Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University; 2012.

Mining for students

How and where will we find the students to meet the needs of STEM and STEM education? First, we need to encourage all students to appreciate the contributions that STEM professions make to the quality of life and the health of this planet. Next, we need to increase the number of students interested in careers in STEM. All students demonstrating strength in mathematics and science need to be encouraged to continue their studies throughout grades K-16. Despite decades of research and efforts to reform the appearance of STEM professions, little progress has been made recruiting women and minorities into most STEM fields. Finally, we need to supply additional support for those that are interested in STEM fields but struggle with math. As stated earlier, mathematics remains the gatekeeper to success across all professions.

Doug Haller is the principal of Haller STEM Education Consulting. Haller is an education consultant specializing in strategic planning and market analysis to drive design, development and sales of niche education products for clients in the for-profit, nonprofit, and education and public outreach fields. His creative approach is based on years of practical experience as an educator, instructional designer and education consultant. Check out his blog, STEM Education: Inspire, Engage, Educate.