What Does STEM Mean in Education?

STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics

A teacher shows students what STEM means in education

When you pursue a college degree, you want to know that the time, money and effort you're investing will prepare you well for a career after graduation. A degree isn't just a piece of paper that you frame and hang on a wall. It should be a symbol of the fact that you're equipped with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in the area of your choosing.

If you're looking for an area of study that will prepare you for a successful career, consider entering into the STEM field. With a STEM education, you’ll be well-positioned to enter into a satisfying and lucrative field after graduation, and provides you with skills that can translate favorably to any workplace environment.

What Does STEM Mean?

Let’s start with a basic question: Exactly what does STEM mean? It's a term many are familiar with, but don’t necessarily understand. STEM is a common abbreviation for four closely connected areas of study: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The fields are often associated due to the similarities that they share both in theory and practice.

There's been a significant push in recent years to fill STEM jobs in the United States. Despite a focus on filling STEM-related jobs, American businesses can't fill their STEM jobs at an appropriate pace. According to the National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte, 2 million manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled until 2025 due to a skill gap (Deloitte Review pdf source). Despite talent crunches in some industries, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that occupations in the STEM field are expected to grow by 8% by 2029, compared with 3.7% for all occupations.

Hands-On Learning in STEM Education

In Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) STEM programs, courses focus on real-world tools that equip graduates to succeed in careers after they complete their education. Highly skilled faculty members bring valuable field experiences to their courses to ensure that students have the skills necessary to excel in STEM positions. SNHU is even exploring ways to utilize virtual reality experiences in a classroom environment to help STEM students enhance their knowledge.

Dr Gwen Britton with the text Dr Gwen Britton

While the field has traditionally been male-dominated, women are increasingly joining the ranks of STEM professionals. On the surface, it might seem like there is good overall gender equity in the STEM job types. Pew Research Center reports, however, that while women make up half of the STEM workforce, the number of women working in different STEM roles varies widely. High schools, universities, community programs, as well as the federal government, are taking steps to promote opportunities for both genders within STEM education in the last several years.

"[At SNHU], we're working to increase the number of women in the STEM program," said Dr. Gwen Britton, academic associate vice president, Global Campus - STEM and Business Programs. "We want to empower and promote the growth of women in STEM.”

The Skills You Need in Any Career

Whether or not you want to pursue a STEM job after graduation, a degree in this area can still be an asset in your future job search as a result of the skills that you develop. When you pursue a degree in this field, you're not limited to a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. While you'll be well prepared for one of these fields after graduation, the STEM skills that you'll develop through your studies will equip you for success in any field.

For example, due to the integration of computers and software across a variety of workplaces, having a background in technology can be very appealing to a future employer. In fact, BLS projects that computer occupations as a group are expected to grow about three times faster than average between 2019 and 2029 at 11.5%. A STEM-related degree can take you in a number of directions.

  • Information security analysts protect an organization's computer systems. Most information security analyst positions require a bachelor's degree in a computer-related, such as bachelor's degree in cyber security. According to BLS, information security analysts earned a median salary of $103,590 in 2020.
  • Software developers create applications or systems that run on a computer or another device. According to BLS, software developers earned a median salary of $110,140 in 2020. Earning a bachelor's degree in computer science is a good way to obtain the strong computer programming skills needed to excel in this career, which is predicted by BLS to grow by 22% from 2019 to 2029.
  • Computer and information research scientists design new approaches to computer technology. This field is projected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029 according to BLS and computer and information research scientists earned a median salary of $126,830 per year in 2020. Individuals in this career often hold a master's degree in information technology or a related field.

The STEM skills that you'll develop are a valuable asset. Your education will provide vital skills, like problem solving and critical thinking, that are beneficial both in and out of the workplace. Employers are looking for candidates who know how to think creatively and innovatively and will be able to solve problems the company faces, no matter what field you pursue. In fact, people who hold a degree in a STEM field earn a higher salary on average than those who do not, even if the degree holder is not employed in a STEM job, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report (DOC pdf source).

Dale Stokdyk is a marketer passionate about STEM higher education. Follow him on Twitter @dalestokdyk or connect on LinkedIn.

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