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What is STEM?

This term is everywhere.

Everywhere you look, you see stories such as how Idaho schools are trying to incorporate STEM into their K-12 education or stories wondering where STEM will be in 5 years.

But what is STEM?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and is a curriculum-based initiative that focuses focus on these four subjects. The curriculum can be taught at almost every educational level and having a STEM program at a local school can open up many career opportunities for students of all ages. This is important given how pervasive STEM is in our daily lives.

STEM is Everywhere

Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives, and if we just look at our environment, we can see how we experience things that are STEM-related.

An easy example is the types of technology we interact with such as our computers, iPads, or smartphones. All of which require engineering. Engineering is also needed to construct our roads and bridges. It’s required to tackle enormous challenges such as global warming and developing alternative energy sources.

At the core of all of this is an understanding of math. Mathematics is in every occupation and every activity we participate in our lives.

Why STEM is Important to You and Your Child

STEM education can directly benefit children at every educational level, and it can help to bridge some of the gaps in the science fields.

Large numbers of jobs that require an educational background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are going unfilled. And the need for these skills continues to grow. According to the Department of Commerce, STEM jobs are growing at 17% every year compared to 9.8% for non-STEM jobs. In addition to STEM degrees have higher income even in non-STEM careers. In other words, there are more and higher paying jobs available for your child if they pursue a career in STEM.

William Swanson, Raytheon CEO, put it best when he said:

“Too many students and adults are training for jobs in which labor surpluses exist and demand is low, while high-demand jobs, particularly those in STEM fields, go unfilled.”

Despite the potential, many are reluctant to enter into fields that require a STEM background.

A recent study found 60 percent of young adults (ages 16 to 25) named at least one factor that prevented them from pursuing further education or work in the STEM fields while 34 percent said they don’t know much about the fields. Over 1/3 of those surveyed said they weren’t pursuing a STEM career because they believed it’d be too challenging. And lastly, 28 percent said they weren’t well-prepared at school to seek further education in these areas.

These results are troubling, but they also highlight a problem—for our youth and our country. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a vital role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy. We need STEM-related talent to compete globally, and we will need even more in the future. We have to make the most of all of the potential STEM talent this country has to offer.

Exposure is Key

STEM education in school is essential to spark an interest in pursuing a STEM career in students, but teachers don’t carry the whole burden of STEM education. Families need to encourage kids to pursue STEM activities and increase awareness and interest at home and in extracurricular activities of the merits of STEM education.

Programs outside of school such as Code Naturally can help children to see that STEM is more than a class to finish. Having activities that show real-life implication of STEM can pull together the ideas presented in school and help to explain to kids how what they’re learning now is pertinent to their future and the future of the whole world. These activities create the interest often lacking when learning new concepts that don’t seem to carry real-world application. Children who are intimidated by STEM activities can find themselves developing confidence in their math and science abilities when they participate in STEM-based programs.

In America, improving achievement in science, technology, engineering, and math will go a long way to ensuring that our country can compete globally, create jobs, and achieve sustained economic growth. STEM represents an opportunity that students, workers, educators, and business must seize if we’re to keep the country competitive in the global market. To do this, we need critical thinkers, high science literacy, and innovators. This innovation and science literacy depends on a solid knowledge base in the STEM areas.

By exposing kids to STEM and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, they’re much more likely to develop a passion for it and pursue a job in a STEM field where they’ll be responsible for developing the technology that’ll shape the future of our world.