Students Veer Away from STEM Jobs
by Jocelyn Rubin | University of Maryland- College Park
Since the beginning of his term in office, President Barack Obama has worked to increase American performance in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)- fields that he believes will spur mass creation of jobs at home. By introducing programs such as the Educate to Innovate campaign, geared toward encouraging young students to participate and perform better in STEM education, the President is aiming to regain top tier global status in these important disciplines. But students may not be following along.
In 2010, the Associated Press reported on statistics from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. PISA tests and ranks 15-year-old students internationally on their abilities in math, science and reading to measure how well their schooling prepares them to meet real world challenges. In PISA’s 2009 report, the United States trailed well behind other nations such as China and Japan in science and math, areas in which Americans once set the standard.
In his State of the Union address on January 24, President Obama stressed again the need for Americans to pursue careers in STEM. In one particularly poignant part of his speech, Obama said, “Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that — openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.”
Some students, however, are showing that they don’t know how to fix it. Or at least, they don’t want to. A 2011 survey by Lemelson-MIT revealed that an increasing number of both women and men ages 16-25 are unlikely to pursue degrees in STEM fields. In addition, the survey shows that the majority of these youth see Japan as the world leader in invention and not the United States.
Jacqueline Crowell, a government and politics and philosophy double major at the University of Maryland, College Park, said she was unaware that so many of her peers were not pursing careers in STEM. “I am actually surprised because I have always felt like there has been a big push to become a STEM major and that I was in the minority,” she said.
Crowell believes the current economic climate may have something to do with the decline. “Students could think that studying such challenging majors is a waste of time due to the trouble with getting a quality job upon graduation,” she said.
Ben Chalfin, a neuroscience and history double major at the College of William and Mary, said that his original career plan was to go to medical school. He changed his mind sophomore year though because he said, “medicine wasn’t for me.”
While Chalfin still plans to complete his neuroscience degree, law school now appears to be his next step. “I don’t think that people should be pursuing a job in STEM if it’s not what they want to do,” he said. “If they don’t like it, they may not do their best.”
Meanwhile, Lindsay Garten, an environmental science major at Barnard Colllege, said she can’t imagine studying anything else. “Environmental science is becoming increasingly more important as the years go by,” she said. “Our climate is changing and at this point we aren’t (doing) much to stop it. I believe that our future depends on environmental scientists who study what’s happening to our planet and who can help us to adapt to these changes.”
Andy Marmer, an economics major at Vassar College, agreed that students should greatly consider STEM majors. “These four fields drive innovation in our country, allowing us to consume the products we do,” he said. “We always need to have individuals coming up with new, better, and quicker ways of doing things.”
And yet, Marmer said he has no desire to be one of them. “I didn’t want to study in any of the STEM fields personally…because they did not interest me,” Marmer said. “While on a macro level I believe we need more people in these fields, I also believe individuals should do what makes them happy. Society will be its most productive when everyone is intrinsically motivated by personal passion.”
And if Marmer is right, then maybe the President has nothing to worry about after all.
Jacqueline Crowell said she believes progress will come to the United States whether students are studying in STEM fields or not. “I do not agree with the current trend in assessing peoples’ career choices only in terms of the salary that they will earn or their scientific contributions,” she said. “I don’t think that social change can be limited to technological advances or scientific discoveries. Progress is also instigated by ideas.”Jocelyn Rubin is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is majoring in broadcast journalism with a concentration in American Studies. She hopes to work one day in the field of entertainment journalism.