Why We Must Embrace STEM Education

To paraphrase an old saying, it will take a village to make our children employable and our nation competitive.

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It’s the time of year when parents are filled with pride as well as great relief that their sons and daughters have achieved a major milestone:  graduation. When Junior, attired in cap and gown, walks across that auditorium stage to receive a hard-earned diploma, it will signify completion of a critical chapter in an academic career. As you celebrate that momentous occasion and start packing bags for college, however, the question you must ask yourself is whether your children will truly be prepared for the brave new world of work that they will eventually face.

Graduation from a college or university no longer serves as a guaranteed ticket to a decent-paying job much less a lucrative, long-term career. So whenever I talk with young people about their future, I encourage them to embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and other such areas that will make them competitive in today’s global economy.

Our children’s prospects are dwindling at a time when 95% of senior executives at the nation’s 1,000 largest corporations lamented that the U.S. is in danger of losing its global leadership in science and technology due to a lack of talent, in a study commissioned by Bayer Corp. Another 55% of those surveyed reported that their companies were experiencing shortages in these areas. Moreover, 80% of them said their companies continue to have challenges recruiting women and minorities for STEM positions, which currently represent some of the nation’s highest-paying jobs (see “Where The Jobs Are,” Workplace, this month).

A recent speech by Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology confirms the bleak outlook. He maintained that only 23% of college freshman declare a STEM major–that’s roughly 15% of the total student population of 3.6 million. Moreover, only 40% of those that choose STEM majors during their freshman year actually receive such degrees within six years. According to Duncan, the prospects don’t look much better at the secondary school level: In science, American eighth graders lag behind their peers in eight countries while 15-year-olds are behind in math when compared with the same age group in 31 countries.

For African Americans, the situation has become increasingly dire. According to the latest figures from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), African Americans received 3.3% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 1995;

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  • Mr. Graves, you are absolutely right. I wrote an article about this subject for a online civil engineering site over a year ago. The stats are alarming. Did you know that in 2007, according to the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), there were only 452 african american civil engineering graduates? The best paying green, environmental and infrastructure jobs are STEM based. It is about time we get qualified to compete for them.

  • Karen

    My daughter graduated in December from an HBCU with a n Electrical Engineering degree and is still unable to land a job. She is even thinking of going for her masters in Accouting, i will forward this article to her in hopes that she remains positive.

    • April Harley

      I work for an electric company, Progress Energy, and we are always looking for minority engineers as are many of the other utilty companies. Was she a member of any student organization for elect engineers? Tell her not to get discouraged. Although many companies pulled back for budget reasons, they also have a huge number of aging engineers that are retiring and they realize that they will have to find talent and soon. We actively recruit minority engineers. Again, make sure she has an awesome cover letter and resume and is prepared to sell herself, and she will be just fine.

  • Great article Mr. Graves! My name is Michael Lang and I’m a young African American male from generation y and I’ve been working in IT since 2001. My organization Noire Digerati has partnered with BDPA/BETF to continue to come up with creative ways of sparking the interest of African American digital natives in technology, gaming, mobile computing, interactive media, and robotics careers and educational programs.
    One of the reasons we focus on gaming a lot on the site is the fact that one, African Americans only represent roughly 3% of the gaming industry (according to IGDA), but we spend far more on games a month compared to other races (the full statistics are on Noire Digerati).. This is nothing new, we like to consume, right? However, research done by us, Georgia Tech, and others shows that black digital natives respond to anything related to gaming and mobile phones, which can be used as entry points to get them considering careers/degrees in technology.
    An example of that is Glitch Game Testers.. We interviewed the lead research of the program and our article is now featured in the news section on Georgia Tech’s site as well as on our site. Another example of a program that works in Gentech Technology Academy (mygentech.net) based in Chicago which is where I work/teach. The youth and young adults we teach are learning game design, animation, web design, and mobile app development and they’re producing great work!
    At Noire Digerati, our belief is that the few programs that I’ve mentioned can play a HUGE part in sparking the interest of black digital natives in technology and giving them something to do after school and in the summer. What these programs, organizations and sites need is more funding and exposure so that parents know of the resources available for young black youth.
    I’m available to discuss further if you like Mr. Graves. My my email is michaelc.lang@gmail.com.

  • Mr. Graves, good article.

    I was wondering how would someone apply for a position with the legal department as part of legal counsel.

    – Ken

  • Clifford Jones

    Mr. Graves thanks for the article it was used for a current events assignment that i gave to my two sons who are 8 and 9. They are know showing interest in STEM and want to learn more fro those areas. Out of Time magazine, US news and world report and black enterprise your article was sellected by them and we broke down what you want the reader to get from your article and how it can impact them and their development. so again THANKS Clifford Jones,Brandon jones, and Jalen Jones