Taking On the STEM Shortage Issue

In today’s workforce, there is a high demand of students with a STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, degree from a credited university. Even though the demand for students in the STEM field is high, there are not enough students that can meet the numbers of workers needed according to the Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce.

The STEM field is considered to be the important areas in education that will keep the United States as a world power and help improve the economy. Yet, less than half of all undergraduates that declare a STEM major end up getting the degree according to the Association for Unnamed Vehicle Systems International.

“We are facing a shortage of STEM workers. We need engineers and technicians to solve some of the biggest challenges facing society,” said Lonny Stern, the STEM Council Director at Skillpoint Alliance, a non-profit in Austin, Texas that focuses on STEM education for students.

Thirty-three percent of eighth graders are interested in STEM majors, but only 6 percent of high school seniors will get a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI.

“Public education is the [United States] is far from being excellent, and that is only hurting not only individual students, but also the country itself,” senior lecturer for the Department of Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin Corinne Irwin said. “The [United States] cannot compete with other countries intellectually if most young people are seriously undereducated and grade-inflated.”

Colleges and universities in the United States award about one-third of STEM degrees compared to colleges in Asia and universities according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“College courses have not changed to meet the demands of the market. Typically, the first and second year courses are taught as ‘weed-out’ classes with huge curves, traditional lecture styles, and very theoretical work product,” Stern said. “It is not until junior and senior year courses that students can see their STEM education in action.”

Current culture does not support patience and endurance in students to get to their third year of college. Because of that, a huge number of students end up changing their major, said Stern.

Noticing the shortages in the STEM field, many non-profits are taking up the issue and are trying to get younger students interested in STEM careers and education before reaching the college level.

Skillpoint Alliance is focusing on building partnerships that lead to college and career success for Central Texans. STEM Council, a division of Skillpoint Alliance, are engaged to address workforce and educational issues in STEM.

“As a service, it is important to present the community the ability to provide a service to the greater Austin area and to help coordinate with high schools and the community to show how some daring teachers are building models that demonstrate successful applications of STEM and how it has an impact on the Austin work force,” Pflugerville’s Connally High School teacher David Conover said.

STEM Council hosts many events to get students involved in STEM careers and education. They focus on robotics, green technology and digital media. Students are able to participate with programs such as Velocity Capstone, an internship-like program where high school students can get paid to create an innovative solution to a real-world problem, network with high-tech employers and use the design and product in a real-world situation.

“I believe that non-profits should be helping education in central Texas and everywhere for that matter,” Irwin said. “If non-profits can help improve the abilities for Texans to have the skills and the education for good jobs, then I feel that entities, like Skillpoint Alliance, are great ways to support a very wobbling education system.”

Since STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, the president adding emphasis in the much-needed degrees in STEM, a high number of high-tech focused jobs available and the importance of public education. If a community focuses on a particular issue, politicians will eventually notice, said Stern.

“There is no magical solution or equation that makes this [issue] work, but trying to come up with the best practice or best model is the value that comes out of this,” Conover said. “The [practices or models] that are successful need to be researched, which is why it is important to bring together the community of industry and education.”

Currently in Texas, there are 2.5 jobs for every unemployed person with a STEM degree while there is one job for every 3.3 unemployed people without a STEM degree.

“This is the Wild West and we are in a new territory and it is no secret that STEM is a needed approach in education,” Conover said.

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