Major hurdles that impede young men and women from pursuing STEM careers

In addition to reading this post you may want to also participate in my LinkedIn poll regarding this same topic.  The poll is shown below:

Just what does keep young men and women from pursuing STEM related careers?  I think there are many things, and I will list a few of them below.  After sharing my list I will add some other comments from research I have done.  At the end of this post there is a comment box where you can add your thoughts.  I encourage you to do so.

Major obstacles to STEM career pursuit include:

  • lack of discipline and perseverance by many high school and college students
  • insufficient course work at the high school level for most students entering college
  • STEM jobs are not “attractive” or “sexy” when compared to many other careers
  • lack of guidance at the high school level due tot the fact that most high school staff are not STEM educated or aware
  • not enough financial aid for STEM degree pursuit

Let’s look at each of these to a little deeper level.

Lack of discipline and insufficient perseverance is not just a STEM issue, it is a societal issue.  I hope I don’t sound too parental when I talk about this, but most students today are coddled too much and there are too many “helicopter parents”    who fly around and run interference for their sons and daughters for too many years.  Young men and women at the collegiate level should be able to handle their own issues and they should also understand that things do not happen overnight, and that the best accomplishments take a long time to achieve.  I’ll step down from my soapbox now, but this is a foundational problem for STEM and many other societal ills.

Many high schools are ill prepared to send young men to college for science and engineering related fields.  My sons were fortunate to have access to physics, chemistry, AP physics and calculus at the high school level.  Many other remote and less affluent systems do not have the luxuries we had here in Williamson County, TN.  Technology now affords almost any school the ability to provide dual enrollment or AP level courses, but there needs to be more emphasis given to pursuing the physical sciences, biology and chemistry     in order to pave the way for the upper level course work needed for degree seeking students.

STEM jobs are give the short shrift when it comes to how they are pursued in the media, especially in movies.  Lawyers and doctors are always portrayed in a more positive light, but engineers are typically portrayed as geeky and introverted    and most scientists are shown in a similar light.  This has to stop!   Most media people cannot solve an algebraic equation, let alone a quadratic equation.  We need to give some credit to those with enough “grey matter” to get the job done.  Would you want to drive across a bridge designed by an attorney or a film director?  I would not…

Before I talk about lack of guidance at the high school level, let me also say that there are many, many good things going on in most schools.  I am not a school basher; to the contrary, I am an active volunteer in doing whatever I can to better connect schools to industry to promote what we are talking about here.    There is, however, a real problem getting the proper guidance at most schools for STEM focused students.  I suspect that most guidance counselors in high schools are not math and science fluent, so they are not able to make the best connection with STEM students.  The real difference makers in most schools are the teachers in the STEM-related courses.  I see this and have countless examples of how motivated teachers have made a tremendous impact on the career choices of students, especially in my own household.

My final point touches upon the lack of funding or lack of access that most young people have to scholarships to pursue STEM related degrees.  I can cite examples like the ACE mentor program and their scholarship programs, but what they offer is, at best, a good start for many lower income young men and women who want to pursue STEM degrees.  We need to get creative and we need to think BIG when it comes to this topic.  I seldom use the word radical when I talk, but we need to come up with a radical solution to incent the right students to pursue STEM careers.

Many of my former posts have spoken about other aspects of the STEM world.  Scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians create value in our economy.  We need more of these types of individuals to fill the roles that will be vacated by baby boomers as they leave the workforce.

We need to do something, NOW.