APU Online Learning Original

National STEM Day and the Need to Improve STEM Education

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Image courtesy of ZMorph All-in-One 3D Printers on Unsplash

By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics

National STEM Day is November 8, 2021. It’s a day dedicated to exploring the world of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – and there are various ways to celebrate it.

The History of STEM and Why STEM Education Needs to Be Better

The term “STEM” was first coined in 2001 by biologist Dr. Judith Ramaley to pinpoint key education areas that needed future attention. Often, the letter “A” for Arts is added to STEM to form the acronym STEAM.

STEM has grown to incorporate a unique way of teaching new topics. In 2005, the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering published a collaborative call to action, Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The article noted that globalization has increased the competition for STEM education to bridge the gap between knowledge-intensive jobs dependent on science and technology and encouraged the development of qualified candidates to fill those positions.

“Rising Above the Gathering Storm” emphasized that the U.S. economy is dependent on generating a STEM workforce capable of working in science, technology, engineering, and math jobs. STEM integrates disciplines and moves beyond simple learning; it also spurs creative thinking and problem solving by highlighting the interconnectivity between science, technology, engineering, and math.

According to Jennifer Gunn of Resilient Educator, there has been a national call since 2011 to incorporate 21st-century STEM thinking and skills into the K-12 curriculum. There is a growing gap between the number of STEM jobs currently in the U.S. workplace and the people qualified to hold those positions.

Addressing the STEM Gap

The STEM gap between available jobs and the people to fill them is prevalent in the United States. There is a definite need to encourage women, people of various racial backgrounds, people with developmental and physical disabilities, and people from low socioeconomic status backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM fields.

The STEM Education Gap Is a Global Concern

According to Statista, the STEM education challenges we see in the U.S. are also prevalent in other countries. Statista notes, “Last year, India was the global leader in university graduates (78.0 million), slightly ahead of China (77.7 million). The U.S. was in third place (67.4 million) and the gap behind the top two is widening. According to some estimates, the number of Chinese graduates aged 25 to 34 will rise 300 percent by 2030 compared to just 30 percent in the U.S. and Europe. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has become a pretty big deal in China’s flourishing universities.”

STEM Education Should Be an International Effort

STEM education is an international effort, and more programs are needed to foster a global awareness of STEM. This effort will include increasing the number of international students that study in the United States at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, international students would require a visa to come in person to the U.S. to pursue an education, and that visa only allowed these students to visit for a limited amount of time. International travel, however, has been extremely hampered by the pandemic, with many countries closing or restricting their borders.

But with today’s advanced virtual technologies, online education can open more learning opportunities. For instance, underprivileged youth in the United States can learn from foreign universities or U.S. schools outside their own communities through online classes, and international students can have the same virtual access to schools in the United States.

Many of our society’s problems are global: climate change, supply chain management, sustainability and the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, STEM workers will need to develop solutions that work for a global society.

Train the Trainer’ for Better STEM Education

Increasing awareness of STEM is a community effort that includes educators, parents and students. “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” emphasized galvanizing 10,000 teachers to impact 10 million minds.

There should be a targeted recruitment of STEM teachers through college programs and scholarships. We will also need to train more educators to teach advanced placement (AP) courses and develop a rigorous K-12 curriculum focused on developing a competitive future STEM workforce. STEM educators will need to work hard to create the next generation of STEM workers.

Parents Are Critical to STEM Student Success

In addition, STEM education is needed for parents so they will understand the importance of improving their children’s education in STEM fields, which should include using different communication channels to communicate current and future educational activities. With diverse communities around the country, this communication to parents can be through email, phone calls texts, smartphone applications and social media sites.

Likewise, parents can discuss their careers and how they relate to science, technology, engineering, and math, regardless of whether if their job is a STEM position. The goal is to help children see that STEM is all around us and is used in everyday activities. Parents can also share their experiences with their children’s fellow students virtually or in person.

Community Effort Is Essential in Improving STEM Education

Communities can also assist in creating the next generation of STEM workers. There are several strategies that can be used.

First, companies should provide continuing education opportunities to allow their current workforce to stay abreast of the latest STEM advancements. Second, organizations should be incentivized with tax credits to encourage the development of free programs that can be shared with local community organizations and schools.

Likewise, companies should offer both in-person and virtual opportunities to show students the hands-on applications of STEM in the workplace. This work could involve providing tours, offering internships and developing collaborative partnerships with area schools.

Encouraging Student Engagement in STEM

Student engagement is critical at the earliest opportunity to encourage and excite the next generation of STEM workers. While most high schools have a science curriculum, STEM education should ideally begin in elementary schools, which means developing a standard, nationwide STEM curriculum for younger children. STEM concepts could be introduced to young students in a fun and easy manner as early as the pre-kindergarten level.

Reliable Internet Access Is Also Key to Student Success

Increasing internet access through broadband technology is essential to the improvement of STEM education in both the United States and around the world. Ideally, all students should have access to a reliable, affordable internet, regardless of their geographic location.

3 Steps to Raise STEM Education Awareness

For National STEM Day, there are various ways to assist in raising awareness of the need for better STEM education. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Volunteer and contribute to STEM education programs.  You can volunteer your time and resources to students ranging from pre-kindergarten to high school if you are a STEM educator. Another option is to contribute funds toward STEM education and resources.
  2. Support arts programs. There are many public outreach arts programs to incorporate the arts into science, technology, engineering and math fields.
  3. Support STEM-based events. More STEM-oriented sponsors are needed by schools, companies and community organizations. Events could include after-school programs, company-sponsored events, virtual tours and career fairs.

The need to create a future generation of STEM workers and their impact on the U.S. economy cannot be ignored. National STEM Day is a great way to encourage tomorrow’s workers to pursue STEM careers and fill the gap between STEM jobs and the number of people qualified to hold those jobs.

Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP, is an award-winning author, presenter, and professor with nearly 30 years of experience in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math STE(A)M. She is the creator of the Professor S.T.E.A.M. Children’s Book Series, which brings tomorrow’s concepts to future leaders today. A global speaker, STE(A)M advocate, and STE(A)M communicator, she holds a B.S. in Meteorology and an M.S. in Meteorology and Water Resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University. She is a faculty member in Transportation and Logistics for the Wallace E. Boston School of Business and specializes in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in transportation, education, and technology.

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