Welcome to the ninth issue of Connected Science Learning! Having spent most of my career building connections and supporting collaboration in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, I am quite excited about my new role as CSL field editor. I’m grateful for NSTA and ASTC’s vision to create this journal, and for outgoing field editor Dennis Schatz’s guidance and support.
Regarding this issue’s theme—encouraging youth to pursue STEM careers—I find myself reflecting on how the definition of a STEM career has changed since I was looking for my first job. When I was a graduate student in physics in the early 1990s, STEM workforce concerns were focused on the supply of PhD scientists and engineers available to conduct research and development in industry, academia, and government. Twenty-five years later, a STEM career is conceived of more broadly, encompassing a wide variety of jobs and accessible via all kinds of education pathways.
Often, arguments about why we need more young people to aspire to STEM careers are based on the needs of employers, on what is best for the American economy, and on maintaining our country’s competitive edge. Compelling cases are also made for the potential of advances in STEM to drive innovation that addresses world problems (see the Engineering Grand Challenges, for example). The STEM employment sector is growing, and we need the next generation to fill these jobs.
Another important angle, however, is that being prepared for the STEM workforce is good for young people, too. It provides opportunity: There are more new jobs in STEM than in other sectors, and these jobs tend to pay better. More broadly, STEM readies the next generation for the world: Even if they choose another career, youth are prepared to problem-solve, ask questions, learn from mistakes, work with others, and analyze information to make decisions and take action in their life and work.
Encouraging youth to pursue STEM careers is an important theme for Connected Science Learning’s readers. As a community we need to do more to support young people from all backgrounds in believing that a STEM career could be theirs, and to shore up this belief with relevant skills and knowledge. According to the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2018, women currently make up less than 30% of the STEM workforce in the United States, and it’s lower (11%) for underrepresented minorities. Even popular media outlets recognize that a diverse STEM workforce is good for society. For example, articles in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Scientific American argue that teams made up of people with different backgrounds and experiences are more innovative and creative and better at making information-based decisions.
The articles you will read in Connected Science Learning over the next three months are similar in overarching goals yet quite distinct by design. I hope that you find interest and inspiration in these efforts designed to help young people build awareness and interest, develop knowledge and skills, and ultimately believe that a STEM career path is theirs if they want it.