In education, the acronym STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This term is used to refer to a particular approach to learning that integrates these four subjects in an interdisciplinary way. Since 2009, the emphasis on STEM education has considerably increased in the U.S. when President Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” initiative with a commitment to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021.
By emphasizing hands-on, experiential learning and problem-solving, STEM helps students better understand and engage with the world around them. STEM seeks to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in a variety of fields, including healthcare, finance, and business. Through nurturing students' abilities and interests in STEM subjects, teachers and educational institutions aim to prepare learners to excel in the rapidly evolving global landscape, solve complex challenges, and contribute to technological advancements.
What is STEM?
Educators weave STEM concepts into age-appropriate learning activities and playtime in the early years, fostering both curiosity and foundational skills in young children. As children grow into young adults, they learn to appreciate the interconnectedness of STEM disciplines. They also develop a strong foundation for future learning and success in an increasingly technology-driven world. Integrating STEM education from early to post-secondary education helps to bridge the gender and diversity gaps often seen in these fields, empowering all learners to thrive and achieve their full potential. Additionally, in response to the increasing global demand for STEM professionals, colleges have strongly emphasized encouraging students to pursue such disciplines. As a result, colleges have expanded their curricula, offered more hands-on work and research opportunities to students, and invested in cutting-edge facilities reflecting the rapid advancements in these fields.
Why STEM Matters
The future of the workforce depends on workers trained in STEM as job opportunities are projected to grow at a much faster rate than non-STEM jobs. The skills learned in these fields allow individuals to think critically, problem-solve, and innovate, which are transferable skills that can be applied to any career. Additionally, advancements in STEM have led to groundbreaking discoveries and inventions that have improved our daily lives such as medical technology and renewable energy sources. By fostering an environment in which science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are integrated, learners get the opportunity to develop essential skills like communication, collaboration, and decision-making, which are crucial in the technologically-driven modern workplace.
Skills Required for STEM Careers
STEM careers require a diverse set of skills, most notably:
- Critical thinking: STEM professionals rely on critical thinking to solve complex problems that arise in their fields. They often use critical thinking to design experiments, make predictions, and identify the cause of a problem. For example, a chemist may use critical thinking to design a new chemical compound, while an engineer may use it to troubleshoot a malfunctioning machine. By asking questions, challenging assumptions, and analyzing data, STEM professionals use critical thinking to push the limits of what is possible in their fields.
- Problem-solving: The ability to problem-solve is essential and helps STEM professionals to seek out new opportunities and tackle challenges head-on. As experts in their respective areas, they must be well-equipped to identify complex problems, break them down into smaller parts, and analyze possible solutions. They also must investigate and evaluate the available data to make informed decisions.
- Research: From engineers using research to design and develop new products to mathematicians using research to explore new theories and concepts, research is paramount to making new discoveries in the field of STEM. Whether it's through experiments, simulations, or data analysis, the work of STEM professionals is grounded in research, allowing them to tackle the most challenging issues facing society today.
- Analysis: Analysis is a multi-step process that involves breaking down information into smaller components, identifying patterns and trends, and drawing conclusions based on the data. STEM professionals utilize analysis as a crucial tool to solve complex problems and make informed decisions. This process allows them to evaluate past data and current trends, predict future outcomes, and develop innovative solutions to existing problems.
- Communication: To translate complex technical information to non-experts and collaborate effectively with colleagues, clear communication is crucial for STEM professionals. From explaining the latest research to pitching a project to investors, they must be able to convey ideas in a concise and compelling manner.
- Collaboration: Collaboration is an essential component of every STEM professional's work. Whether working on a critical scientific breakthrough or developing new technological innovations, STEM professionals collaborate with their peers across various disciplines, including engineering, programming, mathematics, and science. Through collaboration, they can leverage their collective knowledge and expertise to solve complex problems, drive innovation, and create more significant impact in their respective fields.
- Time management: STEM professionals rely heavily on time management in their work to ensure they can tackle the many tasks that arise on a daily basis. From research and data analysis to team meetings and project deadlines, time management skills are essential in helping these professionals juggle multiple priorities. Additionally, effective time management can reduce stress levels and increase productivity, allowing STEM professionals to produce high-quality work in a timely manner.
STEM Career Options
STEM careers provide limitless opportunities for those seeking personal and professional growth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As the world evolves, the demand for skilled specialists in these areas continues to rise, paving the way for new and exciting career paths.
Below are a few examples of STEM-focused career paths:
Information Security Analyst
The role of an information security analyst is pivotal in today's rapidly evolving digital landscape because protecting sensitive information is a top priority for businesses and individuals alike. Security analysts serve as an organization's first defense against cyber threats through innovative strategies and proactive measures. One of their primary responsibilities is continuously monitoring their organization's networks and computer systems, identifying potential vulnerabilities or unauthorized access attempts.
Operations Research Analyst
Operations research analysts are vital in optimizing business processes and decision-making across various industries. These professionals skillfully utilize advanced mathematical and analytical techniques and comprehensive data collection methods to conduct thorough examinations of organizational challenges. They can predict, identify, and assess potential problems and opportunities through their expertise, ultimately proposing evidence-based solutions that enhance efficiency, minimize costs, and propel overall growth.
A financial advisor is crucial in helping individuals and businesses navigate the complex world of finance and investments. These professionals possess in-depth knowledge and expertise in financial planning, portfolio management, risk assessment, and tax planning. A financial advisor understands clients' financial goals, analyzes their financial circumstances, crafts tailored strategies, and provides sound advice to help them achieve those objectives.
A software developer's primary role is to create, maintain, and improve applications or systems that cater to various users' needs, ensuring seamless functionality and user experience. They actively participate in every stage of the software development lifecycle, from conceptualization, design, and coding to testing, deployment, and continuous support.
Mechanical engineers are vital in designing, developing, and maintaining the machines and systems that power our modern world. Their main responsibilities often include utilizing specialized mathematical and scientific principles to solve complex mechanical challenges. From designing intricate components for small-scale devices to developing massive industrial machinery, mechanical engineers constantly innovate to maximize performance and minimize maintenance requirements.
Anesthesiologists ensure the safety and comfort of patients undergoing surgery or other medical procedures. Their primary responsibilities include administering anesthesia, monitoring vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, and managing pain levels during the process. Anesthesiologists also communicate with patients before surgery to assess medical histories and evaluate potential risks related to anesthesia. Collaboration with the surgical team is essential to determine the appropriate type and dosage of anesthesia for each unique case.
Getting a Degree for a STEM Career
Choosing the right college or university can make all the difference when pursuing a STEM-focused education. WGU offers a unique approach to higher education, combining flexibility and affordability with the rigor and quality necessary to succeed in the competitive world of science, technology, engineering, and math. WGU's accredited programs are designed with input from industry experts, ensuring that students receive the latest knowledge and skills relevant to their chosen field. Additionally, WGU's competency-based learning model allows students to progress at their own pace, allowing those with prior knowledge or experience to move quickly through coursework. Best of all, WGU's tuition is less expensive than most traditional brick-and-mortar institutions, making it an accessible option for many students.