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Why we need STEM education

STEM is the new buzzword, well actually its acronym, but nevertheless I am sure you have heard this word in the news and thought to yourself, “what is this STEM thing, and what is the big deal?”  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

In the framework of education, STEM is an approach that intentionally incorporates science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As a 4-H youth development agent I have certainly thought about our 4-H programs and said, we have science, that means we’re doing STEM!

However, what we commonly forget is the key to STEM education is integrating the subjects. Rather than teach the four areas as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a connected learning experience based on real-world applications.  Now, you may be thinking “so why is it important?”

It is important because these subjects play an important role in addressing critical needs of our communities and generating innovation. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives and is a direct result of the research and theories developed through science. Engineering as many of us know it is the basic designs of roads and bridges, but it can also be used to tackle other global challenges like drought and famine.

Mathematics has a role in every occupation and activity in our lives, whether we like it or not. It is important to note that each subject builds upon the other. For example, mathematics is the foundation for physics (science), physics is the foundation for engineering, and all three (science, engineering and mathematics) are the foundations of technology.

This educational approach is being used to meet a growing need. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, STEM-related occupations in the US are projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022.  In Florida alone there are over 17,000 open computing jobs and only 2,986 computer science graduates in 2017 to fill these jobs.

Not all STEM jobs require higher education or even a college degree; however, a four-year degree is beneficial because the average starting salary for entry-level STEM jobs with a bachelor’s requirement is 26% higher than non-STEM jobs. Furthermore, for every job posting for a bachelor’s degree recipient in a non-STEM field, there were 2.5 entry-level job postings for a bachelor’s degree recipient in a STEM field.

The good news is that schools and youth development organizations are taking note.  The Clay County School District is working to implement “STEM schools” while youth development programs like 4-H are working to develop and implement after-school programs and clubs for interested young people. These non-formal education programs provide opportunities to learn about STEM through hand-on activities and projects.

Are you interested in STEM?  If so, there are ways  you can help prepare young people for jobs of the future. If you have an interest in STEM and helping youth  reach their fullest potential, consider being a volunteer with the 4-H.  You don’t need to be the expert, just willing to learn alongside a child. For more information about volunteering, STEM or 4-H you can contact Matthew Olson at (904) 284-6355 or m.olson@ufl.edu