May 15 2013

Unpacking the Benefits of a STEM Education

Students, schools and communities invest in science-based learning in an effort to reap rich rewards.

Everybody loves STEM education these days.

The urgent need for the United States to compete on a global scale with countries like China and India — which are producing large numbers of students proficient in science, technology, engineering and math — has spurred a national conversation about increasing STEM education in all schools across the country.

President Obama and his administration have significantly invested in promoting STEM education, to the tune of $3.1 billion in federal funding.

In an effort to prove how serious he is about the government’s commitment to STEM, President Obama held a science fair at the White House to promote STEM superstars, during which he gamely jumped on a stationary bike to power a water-filtering system using his kinetic energy.

STEM, the president argues, is worth getting excited about.

"We've got to make sure that we're training great calculus and biology teachers, and encouraging students to keep up with their physics and chemistry classes. . . . It means teaching proper research methods and encouraging young people to challenge accepted knowledge. It means expanding and maintaining critical investments in biomedical research and helping innovators turn their discoveries into new businesses and products. And it means maintaining that spirit of discovery," Obama said during a recent address of the National Academy of Sciences.

While the potential economic impact of producing more STEM professionals is intriguing, there are even more immediate benefits to STEM education.

Creating a Path to STEM

Students at Wake NC State University STEM Early College High School in North Carolina outperformed the average scores for the state’s standardized tests, with more than 95 percent of its students passing the state’s exams, reports STEM Wire.

At Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., teachers and technology professionals are working to boost students’ interest in STEM by starting an after-school STEM club, reports The News Tribune.

A team of students from the STEM Club recently won a competition after they created an app “that allows users to doodle on photographs.” The students were rewarded with a six-week mentor program that will have them shadowing software developers at tech company Concur this summer.

“It was an opportunity to tell kids that software isn’t boring. It’s in the cars we drive, and the devices we use,” said Concur employee and mentor Chris Borkenhagen.

That exposure is critical because it can impact the career path students take once they move on to college. Case in point: One of the students who participated in Lincoln High’s after-school STEM club said that the experience helped him decide to pursue a degree in engineering at Washington State University.

STEM with a Twist

Life in the STEM lane doesn’t mean abandoning the humanities, though. Increasingly, educators are seeking ways to inject art back into the conversation, resulting in a twist on the acronym that seeks to build interest in STEAM education.

The STEAM Carnival, a traveling circus that marries spectacle with science, aims to bring excitement to what can often be misjudged as a “boring field.” By building an event that brings together lasers, robots and games, STEAM Carnival founders Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman hope to change the face of STEM with the event.

“As someone with a strong engineering background, I was starting to burn out on engineering, until I discovered I could also make art with it. Discovering that I could use science, tech, engineering, and math to make art transformed my life,” said Gradman, in a recent Venture Beat article.

It’s precisely this transformative power of creation, invention and innovation that makes STEM so alluring to educators and students alike and makes it one of the most exciting segments of education today.


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