There are currently two common threads weaving themselves through many of today’s conversations on STEM education: one is the lack of student preparation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and the other is the lack of diversity in the STEM workforce.
Many programs aimed at preparing youth to become a part of the future STEM workforce stress the “T” by placing singular emphasis on Technology and understating the “SEM”.
Several initiatives, such as Hackathons and Hour of Code, focus on teaching kids to code as a significant portion of the curriculum. While we should continue exposing youth to careers in technology, we must place equal importance on their awareness of occupations in science, engineering and mathematics.
Exposing our youth to a diversity of STEM careers – and empowering them to make a selection based on individual interests and abilities – may weave a new solution to student preparation and STEM workforce diversity.
Due to the increasing availability and accessibility of mobile phones and tablets, applications and gaming – often collectively referred to as Technology (T) – we feel comfortable with this as a discipline. However, we are less familiar with the remaining disciplines of Science (S), Engineering (E) and Mathematics (M).
Science builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Engineering involves invention, design, maintenance and improvement of structures, machines, devices, materials and processes. Mathematics is the study of quantities (numbers), structures, space and change.
The impact of SEM on our society can be seen in the progress and enhancements in agriculture, data collection and analysis, environmental science, health care/public health, medicine, policy and transportation. The work of SEM professionals past, current and future contribute to our daily comforts and improve our overall quality of life.
We may not realize that SEM professionals are all around us in offices, labs and the field. They can be found in academic institutions, government agencies and corporations of all sizes.
To pursue careers in these fields, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (and at times advanced degrees such as a Master’s and terminal degrees such as Ed.D., Ph.D and Sc.D) are often required. Popular science careers include Environmental Scientist, Epidemiologist, Biochemists, Material Scientist and Physicists. The engineering careers of greatest interest include Electrical Engineers, Chemical Engineers, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering.
For mathematics, Actuaries and Statisticians are among the most popular careers. In addition, there are interdisciplinary careers that are popular such as Computational Chemists, Biostatisticians and Environmental Engineers. The average salary range for SEM careers is $55,000 to $75,000 The Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great place to research SEM careers, salaries and degree requirements for each discipline.
Instead of overemphasizing any one of the STEM disciplines to our youth, we should expose them to any career path for which they have an aptitude and passion.
Encouraging them to explore all STEM areas enhances their skill sets and increases their edge in a highly competitive – and global – job market. Placing equal importance on each distinct discipline of STEM and their related occupations will enable our youth to move from disconnected threads to an interwoven quilt of opportunity and possibility for their futures… and ours.
Tokiwa T. Smith is the principal owner and CEO of Kemet Educational Services, a STEM educational consulting firm and the Founder and Executive Director of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc. (SEM Link) a nonprofit organization that exposes urban youth to STEM. is an author and speaker on topics in STEM education and philanthropy. Her most recent book is A Guide to Hosting STEM Events.
Follow Tokiwa T.Smith on Twitter@tokiwana