If the U.S. wants to gain pre-eminence in STEM fields and their social, economic, and national security benefits, we need to stay competitive. The snappy STEM acronym is a key to the U.S. economy. In short, it’s the skills more and more employers need in an always-changing marketplace and always-changing technological world. According to the STEM Education Coalition, 20 percent of all U.S. jobs are STEM jobs—yet there’s still a struggle to fill these positions and make sure the field is inclusive for women and minorities. According to the Minnesota High Tech Association, an organization devoted to bringing together Minnesota’s “technology ecosystem” and promoting STEM, Minnesota alone needs to fill 155,000 STEM jobs by 2020.
The good news is there’s an increase in STEM awareness, both statewide and at the national level, says Mary Detloff, CAE, executive director at the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers. In the last few years, our elected leaders have been speaking more about keeping Minnesota and the country competitive and “stress the need for educated, dedicated professionals within STEM fields,” she says.
According to getSTEM of Minnesota, an online web portal provided by the Minnesota High Tech Association, 18 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations in Minnesota will be tied to STEM disciplines. One of these disciplines is engineering, appealing to a variety of professionals. “For example, civil engineers could work in transportation, water quality and conservation, or in building or bridge design. Mechaniczal engineers could work on airplanes or design medical devices,” Detloff says. “Engineers help keep Minnesota and the U.S. moving forward. They enjoy the challenge of solving a problem, and the satisfaction of a job well done. In my experience, this attraction to problem solving seems to be something ‘built-in’ to most engineers. There will always be STEM- related problems to solve, and there will always be challenges and opportunities for engineers interested in tackling them.” Engineers are well compensated as well, she points out. According to Forbes, seven of the 10 highest-paid majors are within engineering. The highest average starting salary noted was $96,200 for a petroleum engineering graduate, followed by computer engineering at $70,300, and chemical engineering at $66,900.
And while salary can be a huge factor in recruiting and engaging STEM employees, how do companies inspire people to care about STEM at the pre-college stage? Really, it all starts with education.
Students at Minnesota middle and high schools prepare for careers in STEM by learning specific processes and disciplines
photo Greg Helgeson, courtesy of Minnetonka Public Schools District 276
In Minnesota, there’s been an explosion of STEM-focused elementary and middle schools, preparing kids for careers in STEM. High schools are offering computer science and tech courses—many also offering AP STEM subjects to prepare students for the future. The Minnesota High Tech Association offers Tech Experience Tours, an opportunity for high school students to visit local tech businesses and meet a number of STEM professionals in a variety of occupations; Job Shadow Days; and will soon launch the Science & Technology Festival to dispel stereotypes about STEM careers, highlight the role of technology in people’s lives, and celebrate the history, the achievements, and the future of STEM in the state.
Universities can play a leading role in growing STEM fields, but in order to stay competitive, they need support—mostly at the state level—to continue working on research. According to Ted Modrich with the Minnesota High Tech Association, “The University of Minnesota continues to take great research and spin it out into startup companies through its Office of Technology Commercialization and Venture Center. Just a year ago, the U of M launched its 100th startup developed through university research. Efforts like these will help our universities play a leading role.”
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Minnesota is the fastest-growing state in the nation for technology jobs. The National Science Foundation found that Minnesota is one of the top states for both science and engineering occupations—yet there is still work to do. The Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers emphasizes the importance of ethics education, along with offering leadership workshops, webinars, and events for members. One way it works to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders is through MATHCOUNTS, influencing approximately 2,500 sixth to eighth grade Minnesota students each year. While fostering teamwork and a competitive spirit, MATHCOUNTS builds math skills, promotes logical thinking, and sharpens analytical abilities. Detloff says many students say MATHCOUNTS is one of the most memorable and fun experiences of their middle school years. “Providing students with an opportunity to hone their math, thinking, and analytical abilities in a fun environment is an important building block in a foundation toward a STEM career for these students,” she explains.
Organizations such as the Natural Science Academy offer programs for young kids to get a kick-start on STEM-related education
photo courtesy of Natural Science Academy
Local businesses are getting on board as well, such as St. Cloud-based Microbiologics, the world’s leading provider of ready-to-use QC microorganisms and innovative molecular controls for quality control testing in clinical, pharmaceutical, food, water, and educational industries. They offer a robust internship program for STEM students, particularly from Minnesota-based colleges and universities, providing students an opportunity to learn from established and knowledgeable industry professionals and gain real-world experience that they can use in their future careers. Microbiologics’s mission? To provide the highest quality biomaterials for a safer, healthier world. The products they make are used to ensure the accuracy of a laboratory’s test results, directly impacting the health and safety of patients and consumers globally. Even the Minnesota Zoo is onboard with its ZooMS program, made possible through the generous financial support of 3M. The Minnesota Zoo’s Math and Science (ZooMS) Program links children’s natural affinity for animals and zoos with their innate curiosity about how things work. Students and teachers are engaged in zoo-based investigation and problem solving through STEM-focused teacher professional development workshops, zoo-based STEM activities and residencies, and long-term integrated STEM projects such as the ZooMS Design Challenge (students and teachers tackle a real zoo-based problem). While most ZooMS components are tailored for schools, many camps and family programs inspired by the program are offered throughout the year.
We are directly affected by STEM every day—whether through advanced chemotherapy treatments or the newest innovative smartphone technology—and to protect our future, we must produce the talent we need to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow.