What is STEM?
STEM is much more than an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. It's about the idea of educating students in those four areas of study with an interdisciplinary and hands-on approach. Instead of teaching these four areas as completely separate and different topics, STEM instead combines them into one extensive learning program that's based on real-world applications.
The United States has historically been a leader in all four of these fields, yet in recent years, fewer students have been focusing enough attention on these topics. The U.S. Department of Education has stated that only 16 percent of high school students are even interested in a STEM career and have proven that they're proficient in mathematics. It's estimated that roughly 28 percent of current high school freshmen will show interest in a STEM-related career, but before they eventually graduate from high school, around 57 percent of those lose interest.
However, STEM careers are very important. Projections show that more than 8.65 million workers are currently in STEM jobs in the United States, and job growth in these fields is expected to outpace non-STEM areas. In the manufacturing sector especially, there is a massive shortage of employees who have the skills needed to do technical jobs; nearly 600,000 workers are needed! Meanwhile, in the field of cloud computing, an estimated 1.7 million jobs were created from 2011 to 2015. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that STEM career opportunities will primarily break down into computing (71%), traditional engineering (16%), physical sciences (7%), life sciences (4%), and mathematics (2%).
A STEM-related career doesn't always require higher education. It doesn't even always require a college degree! You may be surprised to know that less than half of all entry-level STEM jobs actually require a bachelor's degree or higher, though having a four-year college degree is very helpful when negotiating your salary. Speaking of salary, the average starting salary for an entry-level STEM job is typically 26 percent higher than a job in non-STEM fields. And for every job that's available for a bachelor's degree holder in a non-STEM field, there are two and a half entry-level job postings for someone who has a bachelor's degree in a STEM field: Clearly, opportunities abound!
Efforts to encourage more students to study STEM subjects are mostly targeted toward underrepresented groups, including girls. Studies have shown that male students are three times more likely to pursue a career in STEM. Fields like engineering and technology are particularly male-dominated, while female students typically get involved with sciences like marine biology, chemistry, and biology.
For more information on STEM, please see the following resources: