STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There's
a huge, growing demand for workers in these fields.
There are many hundreds of careers that fall under the umbrella of STEM.
They range from geneticists to mechanical engineers to water resource specialists.
What they all have in common is that they apply scientific skills to real-world
"There are really important problems that we need people trained in the
STEM areas to solve," says Penny Rheingans. "And we're not producing enough
of them." Rheingans is director of the Center for Women and Information Technology
at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Bob Kolvoord is a professor of integrated science and technology at James
Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He's also co-director of the
Center for STEM Education and Outreach. He says this is an exciting time
for those interesting in STEM careers.
"I think this is a great time for students to look at STEM careers because
of the diversity of possibilities that STEM careers offer," says Kolvoord.
"I think too often students hear the words 'STEM career' and they only see
somebody in a white lab coat who's inside all day.
"They don't see the environmental scientist who's out trying to sort out
what's happening with the oil spill in the Gulf," he adds. "Or they don't
see the bioscientist who's working out in the community trying to understand
causes of cancer."
"There's a really big realization that we need to really move forward with
this, or we're not going to have a workforce that is going to be sufficiently
educated to meet the needs of the industries," says Robin Berk Seitz. She's
chair of the Girls in Technology Committee, a committee of Women in Technology.
Women in Technology provides leadership development, networking, mentoring
and technology education. It is one of many organizations trying to get more
girls to consider technology careers.
Berk Seitz is an instructional technologist. She works with schools and
government agencies to develop online learning strategies.
Women are a small minority in most STEM professions. Increasing the number
of women in these careers is a big part of the solution to filling society's
need for STEM workers.
"The trends [regarding women in technology] are not great, but you have
to just keep working at it," says Berk Seitz. "And certainly there are many,
many programs coming out now that are for STEM and not even specifically geared
toward girls, but just drawing the attention to engineering [and other STEM
Why is there such a need for STEM workers? Partly it's due to the aging
workforce -- a trend that's affecting a number of careers. And it's largely
due to the rapid rate of development in technology. Change requires lots of
people to understand, develop and manage it.
"Advances in technology are... not only ubiquitous, but they're so fast
now," says Berk Seitz. "It's very, very difficult to keep up with this.
"If you look, in general, at the rate of change in technology innovations,
it is so rapid now, and it is so difficult to keep up, you really have to
be a specialist, and you really have to be involved at all times," she adds.
"Plus there are a lot of comments about our education system and trying
to improve that," she says. "I think the schools are doing the best they can,
and it's just the rate of change and the competitiveness of the global economy
that's created this [demand]."
It's hard to say how many STEM careers will be available in the coming
years. But it's safe to predict that there will be no shortage of career opportunities.
"I work a lot in GIS (geographical information systems), and I would argue
that everything that's done within GIS has a STEM component, but I'm not sure
it's always counted," says Kolvoord. "So I think counting [the number of job
openings] is hard."
Speaking of numbers, keep your calculator handy if you're thinking of pursuing
a STEM career. Taking math courses is one of the best ways to prepare for
"I would say that the more math they take, the better off they are, because
math really serves as the base layer for anything that we do in STEM," says
And while math is very important, don't neglect your people skills. STEM
careers involve a lot of collaboration and communication with others.
"We've created a stereotype of the lone wolf working by themselves in the
lab, and what we're finding in our academic programs and in the jobs that
students pursue is that the social piece is really critical," says Kolvoord.
"We have to have people who can function on teams. We have to have people
who can interact across disciplines. And it's not OK to be brilliant in one
area if you can't communicate and collaborate."
"I think that as fewer people go into STEM, the less our society is technologically
literate," says Elana Brief. "And that's a very scary thing because we're
becoming more and more technological as a society, so if people have a lot
of discomfort around technology, how are they going to navigate our world?"
Brief is president of a society for women in science and technology. She
has a PhD in physics and works in medical ethics and neuroethics.
Rheingans believes more young people would go into STEM careers if they
knew what a difference they could make in the world.
"There are huge amounts of ways you can do good for the world using technology,
but there isn't this societal belief of that," says Rheingans. "So if anyone
wants to take their strong math and analytical skills and go off and do good,
they go into the life sciences (like medicine or biology)."
If you want to tackle important problems in the world, a STEM career could
be just the ticket.
"Our world is becoming more and more reliant on technology, and so that
means that the solutions to a lot of the world's problems are going to be
technological solutions," says Brief.
"So if somebody cares about the environment, or if somebody cares about
health care, or really, if someone cares about something in the world, there's
likely going to be a technological answer to a problem," she adds. "And if
they go into [a STEM field], they could be the people designing those solutions."
A great source of info about careers in science, technology,
engineering and math, including a link to the top STEM careers
Introduction to STEM Careers
Info on the projected demand for various STEM careers
Keep busy with some fun challenges