Maintaining Student Interest in STEM-based Career Paths

According to a recent article in EdWeek, among 2013 high school Seniors, there has been a 21% increase in interest in STEM-related careers, as compared to 2004.   The most significant differences were by gender. Among 2013 seniors who were interested in STEM careers, 38% were males compared with only 15% who were female.  Unfortunately, surveys of students in future graduating classes indicated an even wider gap between genders.

The most disturbing element of the recent report is the outcome of the surveys of high school Freshmen. Of those students who reported interest in STEM-based careers as freshmen, approximately 57% lose their interest in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  The federal government estimates that there will be around 8.7 million positions within STEM-related fields, as compared to the 7.4 million positions that currently exist.  In order to meet the demands of the future, it is vital that our educational system maintains and enhances student interest in the sciences, technology, and mathematics throughout their high school career. If students are expressing an interest in these areas early in their high school career, it is certainly an indication that such interest should be sustained and encouraged by their teachers and administrators.

As a mathematics educator, I am pleased to see the budding enthusiasm of high school students for STEM related areas. The challenge now is how best to encourage, support, maintain, and enhance their studies in the sciences to preserve that zeal and excitement and to ready those same students to develop their potential for success in college and STEM based careers.

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