In 2012, President Obama announced that our country needed to produce 1 million STEM professionals over the next 10 years to stay technologically competitive. A number of writers responded with data purporting a surplus of STEM workers. Who was right? Yi Xue and Richard Larson say all are right in their Monthly Labor Review paper, “STEM Crisis or STEM Surplus? Yes and yes.”
The authors wisely point out it depends at the sector and level of job that you’re looking at. In academia, there are few professor positions for those with Ph.D. degrees, but plenty of instructor, lecturer and adjunct positions. In general, academics have a surplus of STEM professionals. But areas in the government and private sectors, do have a shortage of workers holding bachelor and graduate degrees, especially in the computer science and engineering disciplines.
So if you hear a STEM student bemoaning the job shortage, refer the student to this article and encourage some deeper research before giving up on STEM.
In 2010, over 100 CEOs in the United States founded the nonprofit organization, Change the Equation. What equation did they want to change? The gap between the demand for STEM employees and the supply of STEM graduates. But that mission has now broadened to making all K-12 students STEM-literate.
Since then, Change the Equation has been funding STEMworks, programs to raise the math and science abilities of children and youth. The website provides full details of the programs that are searchable by audience, age, and program type. There are plenty of high school workshops that could be done as a summer camp to prepare students for STEM curricula. Applications are accepted up through April 15 (except for a few states). These might be worth looking at as a partnership between your library and a STEM department.
On May 24. 2015, Pope Francis issued, “Laudato Sí,” a 184-page encyclical letter calling upon Catholics to stop global warming and save the environment. The majority of American universities have probably noticed the letter, but not given it much thought. However, that’s not the case if you work at a Catholic university or college. The Engineering Deans of Catholic College and Universities have made a public response to Laudato Sí. They realize that they must adjust their teaching on solving engineering problems to an interdependent approach that includes helping people and nature.
Maybe STEM professors at other universities should peruse this letter and share it with their students. STEM undergraduates are often discouraged because their studies seem irrelevant and disconnected from current problems. There’s plenty in this letter to convince them the world needs them to persevere and bring their intelligence and skills to bear on our global environmental problems.
Lack of preparation in mathematics is often a stumbling block for STEM and other undergraduates, and apparently that is true in Ireland as well. Besides offering math courses with lectures and recitations, all Irish college and universities have mathematics support centres. A 2014 study of students who use the centres found positive impacts on the students – more confidence in mathematics, better performance in classes, and fewer dropouts.
I suspect most colleges and universities in the United States have similar help centers, but we usually call them math labs. Although, I wonder if we have an equivalent to the Irish Mathematics Learning Support Network (IMLSN). This national group is a community of practice for those who manage and work in support centres. The network does training and research, and holds conferences. In fact, the network was involved in the study mentioned above.
Math librarians – do you spend time in the math labs? I’m a relatively new mathematics librarian and realize that I haven’t visited our math lab yet. It’s time for me to see what literature or research support I can offer to the lab managers, and whether I can help them get linked up to a group like IMLSN. It’s indirect help, but it still supports STEM retention.
The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) at the University of Alaska should be a model for universities across the country. The program started in 1995 with the goal of graduating more Alaska Native students with STEM degrees. But they were smart and didn’t try to use a Band-Aid to fix the huge problem of Alaska Natives being underrepresented in STEM.
A 2014 conference paper (Session F2B, “Do It Right the First Time”) describes the program in detail. Students in ANSEP start preparing in middle school for college. They agree to complete Algebra I by leaving 8th grade, and four more STEM courses by the end of 12th grade. Beginning after 6th grade, the ANSEP students spend at least a couple of weeks each summer on the University of Alaska campus, where they do hands-on research and network with Alaska Native faculty and students. This supportive curriculum continues through college and even graduate school, if the students choose. 86% of ANSEP university students have graduated or are still enrolled!
Obviously, the University of Alaska and its partner schools had to make a significant commitment of time and money to make ANSEP work. Are larger state universities willing to make that commitment to first-generation and underrepresented students in STEM? For those librarians who have a voice as faculty, tell your university administrations where programs like ANSEP should be prioritized compared to branding campaigns, building projects, and other debatable uses of funds.
I don’t know how I’ve missed Project Kaleidoscope until now. PKAL is a center of the Association of American Colleges and Universities that is dedicated to graduating more students from STEM disciplines. PKAL has been developing an institution-wide model for changing STEM education that is scalable and sustainable. This model is exciting to me because I’ve read about so many STEM programs that increased retention, but they only involved 12 – 16 students and were supported by short-lived grants.
Last year 11 institutions of higher education in California tested out the STEM Education Effectiveness Framework Project. They have reported their experiences in the Spring 2015 issue of Peer Review. Could we finally have an approach that will turn around the trends in STEM retention?
Numerous educational papers and books identify active learning in the classroom as a way to retain STEM undergraduates. Librarians need not be left out of the action, even if they aren’t in the actual or virtual classroom.
A common active learning activity that professors use is to divide a class into debate teams that read about a controversial topic and debate it. At the University of North Texas, one of our biology professors decided to have her students debate the topics of evolution and global warming. She asked us to identify freshman-level documents and compile a reading list. A graduate student and I methodically decided how we would select the readings, which presented some challenges you can read about in our paper. Apparently, the resulting debates were lively.
This is a relatively easy way to get involved in active learning and retention. Debating is even something you could suggest to faculty when they are searching for new ways to engage students.
U.S. News and World Report held its fourth STEM Solutions Conference in San Diego over the summer. Leaders from industry, education, and government discussed how to attract and retain students and workers in STEM. You can attend too belatedly because U.S. News has posted speaker videos and daily recaps in the special report, STEM Solutions. Check it out . . . maybe you’ll want to attend in Baltimore next year.
A common factor in STEM attrition of undergraduates is poor preparation in mathematics. That barrier to retention got a lot higher with the news that parents can pass math anxiety onto their children. The study published in Psychological Science reports that both a child’s achievement and attitude toward math are impacted. The highest negative impact occurs when a math-anxious parent spends a lot of time helping a child with math homework. I guess some of us well-meaning parents need to hire math-loving tutors.
No wonder math seems to be an insurmountable problem for some undergraduates! It will be interesting to see how elementary and secondary schools respond to the findings. Should higher education also have a role in helping math-anxious parents?
A biting post was published on The National Science Teachers Association blog on recently. Professor of Science Education Robert Yager from the University of Iowa posted “Misconceptions about the ‘Doing’ of Science” and criticized science teachers for how slowly they are moving to effective science teaching strategies. In his list of criticisms, he mentioned lack of current science problems and of career preparation in science courses.
The Biological Sciences Department and Libraries at the University of North Texas have started to address those two deficiencies using online course guides hosted by the Libraries. The two introductory biology courses for science majors have extensive material on current science problems, either in the form of news articles or videos. The guides also include a section on Careers in the Biological Sciences to introduce student to the variety of careers available. We still have more work to do, but it appears we are the road to really “doing” science.