Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Importance of STEM Education

Recently, my co-blogger Heather wrote about the fact that most Americans can’t name a living scientist. Today I’m going to write about something that can help change that statistic: science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

According to Research!America’s 2009 Your Congress-Your Health poll, 76% of Americans think that STEM education is “very important” to U.S. competitiveness and economic prosperity. Another 21% consider STEM education “somewhat important,” and only a very small percentage—3%--think it is “not important.” In fact, there is little question as to whether STEM education is important to our society: it provides numerous benefits in addition to making the U.S. more competitive and is therefore crucial to support, promote, and encourage.

Science, technology, engineering, and math education have several economic benefits for society. Undergraduate and graduate programs in these fields provide highly skilled workers and researchers who can make constructive contributions in their field of employment.

The success of the institutions or industries in which these people are employed generates revenue and additional funding that has a huge regional and national impact. One example: according to the 2007 study In Your Own Backyard, NIH funding for Illinois generated 11,914 new jobs and $1,848,000,000 worth of business activity. (Read more about the economic impact of research here).

Educating students in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math also creates people who are capable of finding solutions to the problems faced by the world today. Locally and globally, people with STEM degrees are helping create treatments and cures for diseases, generating ideas for sources of energy, and finding ways to deal with global warming. Their work improves all of our lives.

Since STEM education is so significant to our society, it is crucial for each of us to support. This is a multi-fold endeavor.

A significant aspect of this is ensuring the availability of STEM opportunities to students of all ages. Interest in these areas should be encouraged at a young age and must be sustained; we need challenging and engaging programs that nurture innovative thinkers. If you have a personal connection to science, you can help with this by working to make internships, educational outreach, or other programs available in your lab, classroom, or company. Or you could write to your Members of Congress in support of STEM education.

Ensuring that society is aware of these opportunities is another must. If you are aware of a great STEM program, tell people who might be interested! I wouldn’t have found out about Research!America or this internship if it hadn't been mentioned by a post-doc that I interviewed for information about careers in science policy and public health.

Finally, it is absolutely necessary to foster enthusiasm for the sciences and research. We need to create a culture of excitement and interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. We need science ambassadors (to borrow Chris and Sheril's term) on all levels and in all fields to demonstrate how cool science is.

Tell your friends. Get involved. And if you have any ideas or know of any STEM opportunities that New Voices might be interested in, please leave a comment!

Photo credit: Chemical Heritage Foundation

This is Part 3 in our series highlighting data from the Your Congress-Your Health poll.
Part 1 - Can you name a living scientist?
Part 2 - Poll Methodology

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