Why STEM? Why now?

What is behind the recent movement to incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics more broadly both in school and out of school settings?

Education and outreach centered on science, technology, engineering  and mathematics (STEM) has been gaining momentum. Recently there has been an even greater push with Michigan’s government emphasizing STEM partnerships during the state education summit as well as President Obama announcing a STEM focused AmeriCorps cohort. What makes STEM education so important that it is becoming a movement, and gaining attention from state and national leadership?

The call for greater STEM outreach is rooted in STEM literacy issues in the country and the ability to prepare youth for future careers. The basic premise is that students are not being prepared adequately for science and technology careers; leaving positions vacant and an unemployed workforce not qualified for the jobs available. The estimated ratio of STEM openings to the number of unemployed individuals is almost 2-to-1 as noted by changetheequation.org. Although this gap currently exists, it is believed it will only get worse for future generations.

Even more relevant to youth outreach is the associated achievement gap. Not only are our youth being under-prepared for careers in STEM fields, but youth from minority groups are at an even greater disadvantage. Although the achievement gap applies to education across subjects, it is relevant with STEM being a subset of the low academic performance issues. The National Education Association provides resources for addressing these issues in the classroom. Youth serving organizations can help with this gap in out of school programming as well.

Within Michigan State University Extension and 4-H programming, STEM literacy and achievement gap issues are addressed by integrating learning opportunities into all activities. An experiential learning approach also allows youth to explore STEM based activites in a self-directed way. This is an approach that can be adapted to other positive youth development models.

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