Thursday, September 5, 2013

Building a Strong U.S. Economy Through STEM

“STEM”, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has certainly become a buzzword, and like many trendy acronyms, it may become confused or lost potency over a period of time. But if STEM supporters, and industries that require these disciplines (a large majority of U.S. businesses), have anything to do with it, STEM is here to stay.

Of the 1,650,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in 2009–10, the greatest numbers of degrees earned were in the fields of business, social sciences and history, health professions and related programs, and education, according to data published in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education. The number of engineering degrees rose 12% from 2004-2010, which could indicate that interest in this field is growing. However, we are unclear on what proportion of these graduates are international students migrating to the U.S. to pursue technical education, who return to other locations to work in their foreign economies. Additionally the percentage of students who initially begin college with an engineering major is still dramatically high, hovering at around 40%.

Why, as a society, have we grown to avoid the very fields which uphold our country and help us attain prosperity and economic stability? Can we find fault in our education system, or is there a perception that these fields are dull? Perhaps our dilemma is more culturally rooted, in the notion that our society thrives primarily on the sensationalism evident in our news sources, which hype glamor, social drama, and interpersonal conflict. In fact, it is possible that as a culture we are no longer compelled by data and information, so much as subjective media and opinion-based sources.

Another theory is that we have failed to place an importance on multidisciplinary education and as a result we lack a sufficient means of translating the subjects of engineering and mathematics into practical applications and in terms which many people can understand.

A broader focus on multidisciplinary education is emerging with initiatives such as STEAM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics. And after all, the U.S., and the global economy at large, operates by the articulation of highly technical, specialized information and data. Dr. Pamela McCauley Bush, a Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Central Florida, addresses this very issue on her blog, which addresses focused on the question of “Why Are Engineers Boring?” whereby she explains that while most engineers are very bright, few may be inclined or challenged within our educational system to adopt the common language of the local economy or the business world and that this commonality is oftentimes magnified within by our society.

The most compelling reason is that more than 50% of our sustained economic expansion is contributed by only 5% of U.S. workers employed in fields related to science and engineering, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (Forbes 2012). It is clear that most jobs in the future will require a basic understanding of math and science according to 10-year employment projections by the U.S. Department of Labor. These projections show that 15 out of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for the coming year require significant mathematics or science preparation.

STEM is important to our present, and it is ultimately a huge factor in the outcome of our future.