STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a hot topic in education right now. Blogs and education news sites are filled with forums discussing the STEM education gap, STEM resources, OERs for STEM subjects, challenges in STEM education, involving girls in STEM education, and more.
Statistics reflect that the demand for STEM professionals in the U.S. exceeds the supply: while STEM jobs are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs in other fields in the next five years, the U.S. falls far behind other countries in the number of graduates with STEM degrees. The U.S. ranks 27th out of 29 developed countries in the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded — 6 percent of American students graduate with degrees in STEM fields compared to 40 percent of Chinese students. As of 2010, 40 percent of American students tested below basic math levels while 50 percent tested below basic science levels.
A few weeks ago, U.S. News hosted STEM Solutions Summit 2012 to address the problem of STEM education in America. The event took place in Dallas, TX from June 27-29 and brought together over 1,500 business leaders and educators. The conference addressed the fact that there’s a shortage in the workforce of graduates with STEM expertise, and that businesses and educators need to work together to close that gap. The event was the first STEM summit of its kind, and it also served as the launchpad for STEMx, a network that will provide a platform for educators, business leaders, and STEM organizations to communicate and share tools and resources. The Summit hosted a number of notable attendees (including basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to address STEM issues. The conference worked toward five outcomes, as listed on its website:
- Created the basis for a data-driven marketplace that reflects employment needs of companies and the skill requirements necessary to obtain those jobs.
- Informed educators and policymakers of the innovation needed in the classroom to align skills with jobs.
- Produced a leadership consensus on implementing programs that demonstrate success.
- Showcased the industry/government/education partnerships that are best aligning skills with jobs.
- Increased public and political awareness of the skills gap and the effect it has on the economy.
One important issue the conference addressed is that America needs to stop playing the blame game when it comes to addressing the STEM issues in our country. K-12 teachers, professors, administrators, business leaders, parents, and students all need to work together in order to close the skills gap. President of Washington State University Elson Floyd addressed this issue: “We tend to transition the blame across all of the education sectors. University professors will look at the students they’re getting and will blame the high school. The high school teacher will blame the middle school, and the middle school teacher will blame the elementary school, and all of us are going to blame the parents.”
The problem with pointing fingers is that nothing ever gets solved that way. Speakers addressed the need for businesses to work with universities in order to create curricula that reflects the STEM skill sets necessary for graduates to succeed in the workplace. Ultimately, there needs to be a trickle-down effect from businesses to educators to parents in order to expose students to real-world opportunities to use and learn STEM skills. CEO of DuPont Ellen Kullman said, “We have to create some systematic changes…Most parents don’t know what engineers do. They think of an engineer as the guy who’s driving the train, literally.”
President and CEO of Research Corporation for Science Advancement James M. Gentile wrote a great article about the Summit last week for HuffPost. He pointed out that the diversity of attendees and speakers at the summit is what ultimately led to the event’s success. In his article, Gentile told a story of a class he took at UC Berkeley taught by Chancellor Professor Robert J. Full. The assignment given to the class was to build a robot mimicking a motion by any living organism. The teams made up of all men, all women, or even all people of a particular cultural or ethnic background failed. However, the teams made up of men and women from different cultural backgrounds were the ones who succeeded, because of their diverse perspectives.
“This year’s inaugural Summit,” wrote Gentile, “was a beginning — and a very impressive initiative that, if continued, can play a crucial role in ensuring American preeminence in science and technology and in readying American workers for the jobs at all levels that preeminence will provide.”