February 22, 2017
If you want to do work that makes an impact, there are the obvious career paths. Nursing. Social work. Teaching. Psychology. Then there are the not-so-obvious roles. Like data analysts. Geospatial technologists. Environmental scientists.
While many STEM students set their sights on tech startups, defense technology and software companies - and those fields are certainly critical to moving business forward - others feel drawn to use their STEM superpowers for good, working at one of the millions of nonprofit organizations worldwide. There are 1.5 million in the United States alone, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
So let's get some more numbers out of the way. The nonprofit sector accounts for 11.4 million jobs. That's over 10% of all private sector employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: The Economics Daily. In 2012, the most recent data available, double-digit employment was prominent across the Northeast and North, while the South and a handful of states in the West saw less than 8% employment, according to BLS.
Employment growth in nonprofits is also worth a look. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, from 2003-13:
Working for a nonprofit doesn't necessarily mean giving up a lucrative salary, either. A 2016 salary survey reported that STEM grads were expected to receive the highest starting salaries, some exceeding $60,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Combine that knowledge with recent data that found there is no statistical gap in compensation - wages plus benefits - for management and professionals at nonprofits and for-profits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Monthly Labor Review.
Of course, nonprofit employees aren't the only ones working for causes. From government programs to companies that run charitable offshoots, there's plenty of room to do good on the job.
Sites like WorkForGood.org post careers with purpose, allowing you to apply the skills you've developed from a degree program or on-the-job experience to an organization promoting good in the world. Peruse the listings to find STEM opportunities like:
These positions aren't new. They've been around a while. But the twists and turns they can take - and the way they revolutionize everyday operations - is exciting.
In 2010, over 100,000 people were killed in an earthquake that devastated Haiti. Humanitarian aid organizations rushed to the scene and quickly realized more supplies would be needed. The concept of "mobile giving" shot to prominence at this time, boosted when the NFL promoted text-to-donate numbers during a weekend of playoff games and raked in $500,000 an hour, according to the New York Times. In total, Americans sent $43 million through text-messaging campaigns alone, according to Pew Research Center.
Today, organizations like MobileCause help nonprofits kick off crowdfunding efforts on platforms like mobile, email and social media. Digital software gives users access to create fundraisers and collect info on donors, allowing your organization to target the donors' interests in the future.
That same natural disaster popularized other technological advances, such as the use of geospatial positioning in tracking Haiti's population in the aftermath. Not only did Haitians suffer badly with the region's devastation, soon after they experienced one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in recent times, sickening and killing thousands. Because so many citizens were displaced from the capital region, the disease spread throughout the country.
Enter cell phone data usage from subscriber identity modules (SIMs) within the devices. By tracking SIM card position data, relief assistance organizations were able to locate population movements and provide help where it was needed. A published study concluded that data about population disbursement can be provided in real time, if there are high levels of mobile phone usage, according to PLOS Medicine.
The need for these skills required to develop the technology is real. Kimberly Lawrence, an adjunct IT professor at Southern New Hampshire University, understands it well. As an information systems security assessor at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), which supports the NASA Langley Research Center, she sees the impact STEM has on our quality of life every day - and knows that more resources are needed.
"In Virginia, where I'm from, we currently have 15,000 jobs that we cannot find qualified candidates to fill," Lawrence said. "The governor has adopted STEM development as his main focus because of the critical need for more cyber experts in this area. This is a trend nationwide. Educating students of the causes and the need will help develop the passion and direct their paths into the STEM-related disciplines."
A devotion to STEM hits close to home for Lawrence. In addition to her work and as a member of (ISC)2, a nonprofit association that focuses on cyber security, she partners with the Safe and Secure Online program to teach children, teens and seniors about internet safety.
"I spoke to a group of 13- and 14-year-old girls about a month ago, and I was amazed at how much they understood about geotagging, cyber bullying and what not to share on social media," she said. "They had many questions, and the presentation opened the door to engage in conversation."
The STEM interest in helping others runs in Lawrence's family: "My brother is a web business developer," she said. "His latest undertaking is developing a website to fund and send clean water to Africa. I'm very proud of his efforts."
Find the good in STEM in places like:
Mapping. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's Geospatial Technologies Project takes on human rights issues like secret detention, mass violence and internal displacement. For example, in post-9/11 Afghanistan, thousands of Taliban prisoners were suspected of being killed and buried in mass graves. Eight years later, the project reviewed satellite imagery that showed these sites had been excavated in 2006. The results led to President Obama ordering a U.S. government review of the incident, according to the AAAS Geospatial Technologies Project.
App development. TechSoup is a nonprofit that partners with companies and volunteers to integrate digital platforms with societal needs. Its Caravan Studios division builds apps that help communities. Like Range, an app that bridges the summertime gap for students who receive free or reduced-cost food during the school year by pointing them toward community organizations for their meals. Or SafeNight, which lets users donate the cost of hotel rooms when domestic violence shelters are full, according to Caravan Studios.
Data services. The United Nations Global Pulse utilizes Big Data for sustainable development and humanitarian action. It recently announced a partnership with Twitter, which gives the initiative access to the social media service's data to make real-time decisions in areas where people are tweeting about concerns like food costs, healthcare and education quality, according to the United Nations Global Pulse.
"STEM-related disciplines allow you to become passionate about your job," Lawrence said. "If you're interested in helping the environment, STEM is for you. Do you want to research cancer? STEM is for you. Do you like defending your data from hackers? STEM is for you."
Learn more about how you can do good in the world with a STEM degree.
* Job market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook is intended to provide insight on occupational opportunities and is not to be construed as a guarantee of salary or job title. SNHU cannot guarantee employment.
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