Economy / Education

The Importance of STEM Exposure in the United States

If you have been following my previous posts you know how important STEM education has become in the United States.  I had Voucher Programalso written about the importance of getting the private sector involved in American schools, even using the Brooklyn P-Tech School as an excellent example of how a local Brooklyn school partnered with IBM.  In an effort to round out the subject of preparing our K-12 students to compete in the global market, the focus will now be shifted to the students themselves.

It is vital that K-12 educators expose their students to different STEM careers and fields early in a student’s academic career. This ideology is similar to that used by liberal arts universities across the country, as their main belief is that exposing students to as many different courses and subjects, might enable that student to find a hidden passion that they never knew existed. According to Dr. Fritz Grupe, due to course exposure, 50 percent of those who do declare a major, change majors.

Joyce Blanchard of the University of Indiana, found that exposure to STEM related fields among 4-7 year olds, peaked an immediate interest in science and future interest in science related activities.  Another study done by Katherine Dabney from the University of Virginia found that interest in science during a student’s middle school tenure had a significant effect on whether that student pursued a STEM career in college. For example, students’ participation in out-of-school time (OST) STEM activities resulted in a greater likelihood of that student indicating career interest in STEM while in college. Specifically, those respondents who reported participating in OST science clubs/competitions at least a few times a year had odds of selecting a STEM-related career in the university 1.5 times higher than those respondents not participating in such activities.

This was a common theme in a recent House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing titled “Raising the Bar: Reviewing STEM Education in America.” In the hearing, Mr. Bill Kurtz, Chief Executive Officer of Denver Public Schools, mentioned the importance of exposing his high school students to STEM related careers. He has partnered with STEM corporations to give Denver students several opportunities to apply their academic learning to the real world. Each junior is required to complete a two-day a week internship at a STEM workplace and seniors must complete a STEM capstone Senior Project in order to graduate.

Companies like Samsung have begun encouraging schools to expose their students to STEM by creating Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow K-12 contest. Through Solve for Tomorrow, Samsung hopes to raise the enthusiasm for STEM education, demonstrate how STEM can positively impact our environment and communities, and improve the technology gap in classrooms. As a form of incentive, in this past year, Samsung gave over $1 million worth of technology and equipment to over 75 schools out of the 1,500 applications they received from all over the country. The folks at Samsung view their contest as an investment, as they hope to spark the creative minds of future STEM workers and hopefully upcoming Samsung innovators.

The idea of exposing K-12 students to the world of STEM is one that has been gaining traction throughout the last few months. Recently, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) introduced he Project Ready STEM Act of 2013, to help ensure access and exposure to STEM for urban minority youth. This is important since African-Americans held only 5.1 percent of science and engineering jobs and Hispanics held 5.2 percent of those STEM jobs. Her proposed bill expands community-based programs that increase exposure to hands-on science activities. As she has stated, numerous evaluations found that quality STEM after-school programs such as those conducted by the Urban League, increase the likelihood of graduation and pursuit of a STEM career.

The main point is that exposing and encouraging students to partake in STEM activity is an effective way to develop genuine STEM interest among K-12 students. These activities can come in many forms, including field trips, participating in local or national STEM contests, or securing a STEM related internship. However, once that interest is peaked it’s up to educators and schools to provide these students with the aid and resources to enable them to continue in a STEM related career.