So We Talk a Lot about STEM, Here’s What We’re Not Talking About.

STEM. Science, technology, engineering, math. At this point, it’s a household name and an incredibly popular career path for millions of Americans. I’m not super concerned about how or why it became so massive, but I am concerned about its effects on our students. Although the STEM industry often generates high-paying jobs, there’s a lot to consider and a lot of things most people don’t know. Here are a few.

The number of people entering the STEM workforce increases every day.
In 1960, 1.1 million Americans worked in STEM fields. Since 1990, employment in STEM occupations has grown approximately 80%, with 17.3 million people involved in STEM occupations currently. Those numbers are staggering. Employment in STEM growth has outpaced the overall U.S. job growth, meaning more jobs are created in STEM proportionally than all of the other total jobs in America. We have become a country that emphasizes science and technology over any other field, and this shift has larger impacts than we may realize.

STEM majors are generally the most competitive and only the top students in the country can make it.
Because there is such a heavy emphasis on STEM in America, it is by far the most competitive field to go pursue, and only the smartest or most-skilled students can get into their majors and then graduate. So in a world where it feels like the only way to be successful is through science or engineering, hundreds of thousands of students assume they aren’t good enough and don’t have access to a steady career path or valuable options. Students who aren’t naturally skilled at math and science fall behind in school and often take advanced STEM classes not because they want to, but because they think they have to.

STEM Occupations are contributing to marginalization in the workforce.
According to the US World News Report, “the number of white students who earned STEM degrees grew 15 percent in the last five years.” In the same study, it was found that the number of African American students earning STEM degrees decreased by the same margin, and female interest also decreased. Use these statistics to draw whichever conclusion, but it’s clear that there is an unbalance of some sort in the STEM field. Why? Perhaps because this niche industry is not only highly competitive but requires specialized skills and ways of thinking that many Americans don’t have.

STEM is largely prioritized, sometimes unfairly, in our education system.
It makes sense. Since these jobs are the most lucrative, the most competitive, and recently the most prestigious, of course, schools will make a push toward a larger focus on STEM. But at what cost? According to The Resilient Educator, “STEM education led to a rapid expansion and segmentation of rigorous math and science courses… Saturating students with STEM classes without accounting for engagement or interest has led to some stagnant gains in recent years.” I face this a lot. To look better to colleges, I took computer science, physics, environmental science, and calculus… None of which I have an actual interest in. Schools, including those of CFISD, widely prioritize STEM subjects, to the point that students take classes they don’t even care about.
Think about this. Students are required to take biology, chemistry, and physics, but there are only class-specific English courses. Bridgeland offers aquatic science, statistics, earth and space science, and quantitative reasoning, but the only English elective offered is creative writing. The emphasis on STEM has become systematic and institutionalized, and it can be seen in every facet of the education system.

Most colleges largely favor STEM as well.
I’ve had a very involved college search- applying for numerous scholarships, comparing majors, and looking at student populations. And yet again, it’s hard not to ignore the enormous emphasis placed on STEM. Looking at the University of Georgia’s highly prestigious Fellowship Scholarship, 16 out of 20 of the winners for 2018 were STEM majors. Scrolling through the winning student profiles, you’ll see computer science, mechanical engineering, molecular biology… But no English, political science, or even law. Many non-STEM majors that used to be greatly emphasized and respected career paths are almost completely left out. At UT, 7 out of 10 of its most populous majors are STEM. These numbers are vastly discouraging to me, and I know they’re discouraging to thousands of students across the country as well. What to do when you’re an intelligent, high-achieving student, but just aren’t particularly adept at math and science, or like in my case, just aren’t passionate about those fields? It seems like the whole world only cares about the doctors and the engineers, and everyone else just isn’t good enough. Regardless of number or majority, there are students across the country who would prefer to choose a career path outside of STEM, and their interests should be equally recognized. But instead, on the high school, college, and professional level, STEM is prioritized again and again, to the point that most students don’t even feel like they have an option.

Other careers can be just as valuable as STEM occupations.
Law. Politics. Public service. Entrepreneurship. Film Making. Foreign affairs. The number of careers outside of science and technology are endless, and many of them contribute just as much to the community as any STEM career. There are so many paths to becoming successful, and our country’s obsession with STEM will only further stunt job diversity and stability of the economy. I know there are countless students out there just like me, who are smart, hardworking, and talented, yet feel worthless because they aren’t passionate about STEM. I plan on being a lawyer, or a journalist, or a real estate broker, but I feel ashamed to tell people that or put those on my college application. I know what colleges want to see and what people want to hear, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. Why is our entire system catered to a field that only suits a minority of the population? There has been so much talk of equality in 2020, but no one talks about the gaping hole in our education system and the professional sector. The solution is simple, and it starts with decreasing emphasis on not only an educational level but a personal level. We need to rewire our brains to respect other subjects as well and be at peace with following our passions… not just America’s passion. If engineering is someone’s dream, awesome. But if real estate is someone’s dream, they shouldn’t feel pressure to become a doctor. So, I challenge students and educators alike to let go of their grip on STEM and accept other majors and occupations as perfectly desirable too. Because they are.