STEM Skills Can Help Every Career

Stephen DeAngelis

July 17, 2015

As president and CEO of a company that employs people who have a high level of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, I know how difficult it can be finding a person with the right skills to fill a job opening. I also appreciate the fact that not everyone wants to be a scientist, technologist, engineer, or mathematician. I’m convinced, however, that STEM skills can be useful in any occupation. In fact, having basic STEM skills makes it easier to meet and overcome many of life’s challenges — regardless of one’s career path. Wayne Carly agrees with me on that point. He writes, “STEM skills are needed in every career on a daily basis.”[1] He explains:

“As important as STEM careers are, the notable dropout rate in STEM focused college programs and the growing segregation of students into STEM versus non-stem categories shows our broad misunderstanding of what STEM really is at its core. Every career is a STEM career. The only difference is the amount of education required for a specific field and the financial compensation received. From bug exterminator to aerospace engineer, STEM skills are required on a daily basis. This can only call into question our approach to filling career field shortages and how STEM is understood and incorporated into every curriculum. A corrected understanding of STEM in our daily lives can only provide less resistance to STEM discussions and career considerations from an early age as well as clarify the hardwired STEM characteristics inherent in our brains from birth. When teachers and students are aware of their use of science, technology, the engineering method and mathematics in their personal, non-professional lives, the application to careers and their required skill set become very clear.”

I wish Carly would have gone on to discuss how STEM skills are useful in the arts as well as the sciences. Leonardo di Vinci was able to help lift the pall that characterized the Dark Ages’ with art that used and was inspired by STEM subjects. Carly’s main point is that we all make decisions, both professional and personal, every day and that STEM skills help us make correct decisions. He writes, “We all use the engineering method (a decision making process) several times per day without realizing it.” When you add the engineering method with the scientific method, you create an intellectual framework that can be used to overcome most of life’s challenges. The real challenge is getting young students to understand how they can use STEM skills in their daily lives so that they can make a direct connection between what they learn and how they live. I believe the best way to do this is by including hands-on, problem solving opportunities throughout a child’s educational journey. That’s why I, along with a few colleagues, founded The Project for STEM Competitiveness — to help get a project-based, problem-solving approach into schools near where we live. We firmly believe that by showing students how STEM subjects can help them solve real-world problems they will begin to appreciate the opportunities that STEM skills open for them.

In a special report published as a precursor to its STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference held in June, the U.S. News & World Report noted, “Engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math fields over the last five years has emerged as a national priority.”[2] The special report highlighted students who are “making extraordinary strides in medical research, energy, computer sciences and other STEM fields.” Highlighted students ranged in age between 13 and 21. Their accomplishments are impressive. For example, Shubham Banerjee (@ShubhamSocial), age 13, and his company produce an affordable Braille printer. Braeden Benedict, age 18, invented a helmet-mounted concussion sensor. David Cohen, age 13, created a robot designed to rescue natural disaster victims. Angela Zhang, age 20, helped unearth the capabilities of a cancer-combating nanoparticle. And Katherine Wu, age 14, invented a way for drowsy drivers to stay awake. Mary Cirincione (@mccirincione) reports that two high school students, sophomore Claire Wild, 15, and junior Shay Kiker, 17, “co-founded a club at Glenbard West High School in suburban Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to provide an outlet so like-minded students could share and grow their STEM interests.”[3] Wild and Kiker also do outreach work to their former junior high school in hopes of stimulating interest in STEM subjects. Although Wild’s and Kiker’s efforts are praiseworthy, Carly argues that STEM needs to be discussed routinely in the classroom, not just as an extra-curricular activity. “A 60 second STEM activity a few times per week in every subject is the foundation of a corrected understanding of how we think, what we can accomplish,” he writes, “a new encouragement to be curious and a welcome embrace of all things STEM without fear or discouragement.”

I like the fact that Carly stresses activities. As noted above, I’m a firm believer that hands-on exposure to how STEM skills are used is the key to getting students excited about learning more. Veronica Eliasson is apparently of a like mind. Brian Mastroianni (@Brimastroianni) reports that Eliasson, an assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, promotes STEM for women by showing them how much fun they can have solving problems.[4] Her efforts also demonstrate how science can be used in the field of arts to entertain and delight. A lifelong fan of the television series McGyver, Eliasson started a contest known as The Next McGyver, “a screenplay competition co-sponsored by the Viterbi School, The National Academy of Engineering, The MacGyver Foundation, and Lee Zlotoff, the creator of the original TV series. The competition aims to find the best proposal for a show that could bring a female protagonist to mainstream television who, like MacGyver, is an engineer using science-based solutions to overcome obstacles.”

The business community can assist in the effort to show students how STEM skills are used in everyday life. Tim Bajarin (@Bajarin) reports that Intel and Boeing are getting involved in promoting STEM in the Phoenix, AZ, area.[5] Bajarin notes that companies like Chevron and sports teams like the San Francisco 49ers have involved themselves in promoting STEM. Amy Golod (@agolod) reports that corporate involvement in STEM outreach programs can be found around the globe. She writes, “Corporations with worldwide reach have taken notice, and have ramped up efforts to show middle- and high-school students how STEM fields relate to real-life situations. Mentoring, sponsored summer courses, educational events and contests soliciting creative scientific approaches to community problems have helped spark interest in STEM.”[6] Most of the founders of the Project for STEM Competitiveness come from the corporate world and they represent a range of industries from software to pharmaceuticals. The empirical evidence is piling up that hands-on, project-based STEM activities can teach students how to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life situations and that every career is a STEM career.

Footnotes
[1] Wayne Carly, “Op-ed: Every career is a STEM career,” Consumer Affairs,” 28 May 2015.
[2] “The Next Generation of STEM,” U.S. News & World Report, June 2015.
[3] Mary Cirincione, “Project I: Students Make STEM Real for Young Teens,” U.S. News & World Report, 25 February 2015.
[4] Brian Mastroianni, “‘The Next MacGyver’ competition aims to encourage more women to pursue STEM,” Fox News, 21 May 2015.
[5] Tim Bajarin, “How Intel and Boeing Are Helping These Kids Learn STEM Skills,” Time Magazine, 27 April 2015.
[6] Amy Golod, “Companies Promote STEM Through Collaboration, Connecting STEM to Real Life,” U.S. News & World Report, 12 November 2014.