Economists at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) surveyed U.S. employment in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The report, “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future,” looks at workers driving innovation in the United States and how new ideas, companies and industries can improve the country’s standing in the world economy (go to esa.doc.gov and click on reports).
In the past 10 years, STEM jobs have grown at a 3-to-1 ratio (7.9 percent) compared to non-STEM jobs (2.6 percent), and are expected to grow at a faster rate in the next 10 years. In 2010, 7.6 million people or 5.5 percent of the labor force, held professions in STEM fields.
President Barack Obama has advocated for STEM education, encouraging students in the U.S. to strive for top achievement and international leadership over the next decade in science and mathematics; hence initiatives like Race to the Top and the Educate to Innovate campaign.
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Although the focus in the ESA report is on computer technicians, engineers, analysts and other occupations, jobs in STEM education are equally important. “We need you in our classrooms,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, “[and] labs and key government agencies to help solve our biggest challenges, and that’s why we are investing heavily to promote STEM education.”
And of course, the country needs students in the classrooms, too. Among the four STEM occupational groups categorized in the ESA report, the physical and life sciences workforce has the highest level of education, with nearly 40 percent holding a graduate degree, twice as many of those who hold computer, math and engineering jobs.
STEM workers also experience lower unemployment rates than workers in other fields, although STEM jobs are not immune to recessions. In 2007, the unemployment rate for STEM workers rose from 1.8 percent to 5.5 percent in 2009. In 2010, it was back down to 5.3 percent.
To push this rate even lower, initiatives, programs, campaigns – and a Facebook app are lobbying for STEM education. At the School of Information: Science, Technology and Arts (SISTA) at the University of Arizona, a team of educators is developing Teach Ourselves, an online community designed to prepare young students for a STEM career by providing a place for learning and creativity. They can even earn points redeemable for goods.
The project mission is “to build students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, math and computer science, and to help students understand that they can be rewarded for creative and collaborative intellectual work.”
Some of the things young scholars will be able to do via Teach Ourselves is design problems and exercises, collaborate on projects, engage in competitions, participate in experiments in remote labs and translate materials into underserved languages. One pilot study participant commented, “I learned more than I meant to.”
Mentors can also participate in discussions about STEM topics to critique and provide feedback on problems before publishing. Scholars also have the opportunity to earn points for each approved published problem to redeem on rewards, such as a scholarship for college. Those problems are then available for anyone in the system to earn points.
Teach Ourselves can be customized toward specific learning objectives. For example, afterschool programs can engage youth in productive problem solving, or students can create and publish problems on their own.
The long-term goal is to create a widespread, self-sustaining community through sponsorships with STEM communities, and foster camaraderie, competition and learning. To learn more, go to facebook.com/teachourselves.