Belinda Leon, @belileon7
If you haven’t heard the term STEM, then you don’t have school-age children. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – a group of subjects that education is approaching in an interdisciplinary fashion so as to better prepare students for the future. How important is STEM? In 2014, President Obama’s administration invested $3.1 billion in federal programs to support STEM activities at all levels of education. But, again, why is STEM important?
There are currently over 3 million STEM related jobs that cannot be filled because there are not enough candidates qualified in STEM fields. It is estimated that by 2022, there will be at least 1 million more STEM jobs created. In some 6 years, we are going to have STEM jobs that don’t even have proper titles right now. For example, who is the person that is going to continue to fine tune the ability of robots to assist in our daily lives? Medical scientists are already trying to determine if they can create more artificial or mechanical organs instead of having patients on endless organ donor waiting lists. And has anybody put thought into how we can exploit drones to better meet every day needs? The individuals who are going to do the work in these fields need to be in school NOW studying in STEM related majors.
A recent survey found that almost 50% of high school students will NOT pursue a STEM major in college. Why is that when we have so many job openings in STEM? The social aspect is so critical. We have to start talking about STEM related possibilities at a young age with students to not only encourage but also set up an expectation that can be met. We need to provide students the academic framework, structure, and support to pursue these possibilities. Even if we have the academic opportunities and structure in place, the social aspect can determine if students do indeed pursue this area. Especially with girls.
Studies show that little girls start out with the same aptitude and interest in math as boys, but that by age 13 it diminishes. What are we doing to our girls that we take away their interest in math and science? It’s our own socialization of them. Worse, if we happen to get girls into a STEM related major in college, we still face a retention rate of only 30%. Women tend to gravitate to biology and shy away from math, engineering, physics, and chemistry. I actually had a female college student tell me that her fellow female math majors were encouraged to study a division of math for education (teaching math). And many took that route in order to avoid the 2-3 years of hard advanced math that lay head of them before even taking a physics course.
Another Hispanic female college STEM student told me that it was hard to stay motivated in school when all your professors are non-Hispanic males. We need more Hispanic faculty, more female faculty, more mentors, and role models. These social factors cannot be overlooked because they are vital.
Recently, my 2nd grade daughter brought home a huge packet from school explaining in excrutiating detail how they were to put together a science project as per Miami Dade County Public School regulations in order for her school to maintain a STEM designation. I, along with many other parents, felt completely overwhelmed and had some words not fit for print to say about this particular project.
But, I took a deep breath and told myself that this was good for her. That I was not going to let my very young impressionable Hispanic daughter be “turned off” by science. Or Math. I chose to be excited about her science project – and she was too. When she told me that she loved math and wanted to be just like her math teacher – I told her math was cool. When she asked for Legos and a robotics course – she got it.
My college degrees are in psychology, business, and education. I almost flunked chemistry, hated physics, and struggled through math in college. But that does not mean that I can’t be aware of the fact that the future is calling for more science, technology, engineering and math. We don’t have enough graduates to fill the current open positions. Yet there are almost 55 million Hispanics in the United States and every month, 66,000 of them turn 18. We are the fastest growing minority group in this country and this is the perfect opportunity to fill those job opening with Hispanics. And if it’s a Hispanic girl- even better. For STEM represents an opportunity for both Hispanics and women to bridge the gap that continues to exist in pay equity; representation in high-level company positions, and a step up from current income brackets.