FAQ’s About STEM Education in the U.S.

Q: What is STEM?

A:  STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and is often used to describe the suite of academic disciplines necessary for achieving and maintaining technical and scientific careers.  The acronym also groups these academic disciplines to address concerns that these subjects are often believed to be more open to men, and are taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum.  More information about STEM can be found through the US Department of Education.

Q: Why is STEM education important?

In the modern global economy, STEM education is closely linked with our nation’s economic prosperity.  The United States has become a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers and innovators. Yet today, that position is threatened as comparatively few American students pursue expertise in STEM fields.  Many believe that our nation must expand the capacity and diversity of the STEM workforce pipeline to prepare more students for the best jobs of the future that will keep the U.S. innovative, secure and competitive.  In 2010, President Barack Obama set a priority to increase the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields.

Q: What about women in STEM?

A: We need more women in STEM.  In the United States, women are often underrepresented in STEM fields, and this has negative implications for innovation and the societal relevance of science. Because women are underrepresented in STEM, young women often believe they lack ability or a community in choosing a STEM career. STEM needs women, but there are also many benefits to careers in STEM. Women in STEM jobs earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations.  Though there is still work to do, the wage gap between men and women in STEM jobs is smaller than the gender wage gap other fields.

Q: How does participation in STEM vary by ethnicity?

A: While the numbers of ethnic minority women pursuing higher education in STEM has grown, we still have considerable work to do. Diversity is critical to STEM, and a diverse point of view expands innovation and social applicability in STEM fields. However, young women of color in particular are unlikely to see themselves as belonging in STEM fields which are often White and male-centered. Further, women of color have to contend with other social stereotypes, such as misbeliefs about a lack of cognitive ability. Intervention programs, which emphasize the inclusion of women of color and breakdown negative stereotypes, are needed at the college level to increase a diverse representation of women and move STEM innovation to new levels.

Get-together of ESWN members in Central NJ, 2015

Q: Why is mentoring so important for anyone pursuing higher education or a career in STEM?

A: Mentorship is a very important aspect of professional development in any career path.  Effective mentors can help the next generation of STEM professionals navigate new challenges both outside and within the workplace, and they can provide a range of opportunities. Mentors are particularly important for underrepresented groups, such as women, to promote a sense of belonging and to help overcome social barriers.