Thursday, March 19, 2015

Communication from 3 Sources Encourages Studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

James B. Hunt Jr. Library at NC State

In his March 9th post, Bill Troy writes about how to encourage the next generation to study STEM majors and fill the job market shortage. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. STEM jobs (list at this link) range from Accountants to Zoologists.

Communication is key to encouraging STEM studies. Communication from the following strongly influences students to pursue STEM training:
  • Parents
  • Teachers/ Mentors
  • High School Career Fairs



My approach to this topic is very personal. I have two sons graduating from high school and entering a university in the fall. My husband and I have encouraged them to pursue STEM majors.  With a modest household budget, we have taken the position that there are majors we will not finance. We've discussed the cost of supporting a family and the realities of the job market. The kids have made great choices in majors (accounting and engineering) and we pray they will stick with those decisions.

Over the years we have used experiences of family and friends to illustrate pros and cons of various career paths. Cousin Joe graduated with a Logistics major and can't find a job. Uncle Bob studied Electrical Engineering and has enjoyed a lucrative career. Cousin Suzie earned advanced degrees in Chemistry yet had only 1 job offer hundreds of miles away from home. Two neighbors are Accountants, and support large families.

Local and national news stories provide teaching moments. Unemployed college graduates with thousands of dollars in educational loan debt, local industry expansion or decline, and job market shifts due to an aging population all relate to college major choices.

We've also used our own STEM educations to make some points. Both the industries we trained for no longer exist in the United States. There are lessons to learn in that.

Countless local opportunities have encouraged their interest in science. As preschoolers, we took them to classes at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. They learned laboratory techniques at the local library in an RV sponsored by the University of North Carolina. In middle school, I organized a Science Olympiad team and volunteered as coach. The kids continued participating throughout their high school years. There is nothing more encouraging about STEM studies than a university basketball auditorium filled with high school students competing in science events.
State Finals NC Science Olympiad Competition

Teachers and Mentors

Teachers have a tremendous influence on students. From advising on high school science and math courses to discussion of college choices, my kids have benefited greatly from conversations with teachers. Experiences in class also shape impressions of subjects. High school students have a vast class selection. Good STEM teachers in high school keep students engaged in those subjects steering them towards STEM college careers.

High School Career Fairs

The value of conversations with employed STEM professionals from the local community is tremendous. Young adults that have career aspirations and those that are still undecided can benefit from discussions with representatives from companies, scientific organizations, and entrepreneurs. Information about education requirements, career paths, salaries, and future job prospects are offered during these interactions.

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