Below we provide common, widely used definitions of STEM for our audience. We want to emphasize that the interdisciplinary nature of STEM makes it a constantly evolving concept.
National Science Foundation
One of the widely accepted definitions of STEM is National Science Foundation’s definition:
The NSF definition of STEM fields includes mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, computer and information sciences, and the social and behavioral sciences – psychology, economics, sociology, and political science.
STEM education and training provides the United States with three kinds of intellectual capital:
- Scientists and engineers who continue the research and development that is central to the economic growth of our country;
- Technologically proficient workers who are able to keep pace with rapidly developing scientific and engineering innovations; and
- Scientifically literate voters and citizens who make intelligent decisions about public policy and who understand the world around them.
To achieve this expanded human capital, STEM initiatives are aimed at improving the educational experience from elementary school to graduate education, and thus prepare students to eventually solve not only current problems but also unimagined ones of the future.
National Research Council
The four STEM subjects as defined by the National Research Council:
- Science is the study of the natural world, including the laws of nature associated with physics, chemistry, and biology and the treatment or application of facts, principles, concepts, or conventions associated with these disciplines.
- Technology comprises the entire system of people and organizations, knowledge, processes, and devices that go into creating and operating technological artifacts, as well as the artifacts themselves.
- Engineering is a body of knowledge about the design and creation of products and a process for solving problems. Engineering utilizes concepts in science and mathematics and technological tools.
- Mathematics is the study of patterns and relationships among quantities, numbers, and shapes. Mathematics includes theoretical mathematics and applied mathematics
U.S. Department of Education
In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects collectively known as STEM.
Current Developments in STEM
“One of the things that I’ve been focused on as President is how we create an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math… We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve.”
Success in STEM is key to the United States retaining its preeminence as the world’s leader in innovation and technology. Of the fastest growing occupations in the US, 80 percent demand upon mastery of mathematics and scientific knowledge and skills. Across government, industry, the non-profit community, and educational institutions, a consensus has been reached; the United States must develop human capital equipped with knowledge and expertise in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). To this end, many current STEM initiatives are geared towards accomplishing this goal by the following means:
- Supplementing industry-specific skills acquired through STEM education with power skills, such as communication, innovation excellence, and digital fluency to solve the problems of tomorrow.
- Developing programs to attract and train STEM teachers.
- Implementing diversity initiatives to provide opportunities for historically underrepresented groups in STEM and reflect the nation’s demographics in industry and academia.
- Incorporating Arts and Humanities into STEM in order to foster inquiry, creativity, and innovation which are essential in the current technological world.
Good Pedagogy = Quality STEM Talent
A 2014 study published by the America Society for Engineering Education identified several characteristics of quality STEM programs:
- The context is motivating, engaging, and real-world.
- Students integrate and apply meaningful and important mathematics and science content.
- Teaching methods are inquiry-based and student-centered.
- Students engage in solving engineering challenges using an engineering design process.
- Teamwork and communications are a major focus. Throughout the program, students have the freedom to think critically, creatively, and innovatively, as well as opportunities to fail and try again in safe environments.
With all that we have to address in the world – warming continents, fluctuating economies, monstrous cities – pursuing scientific questions in tandem with artists and designers may not seem like conventional wisdom. But given the unconventional nature and scale of the problems we face today, there is real value to be gained from collaborations that bridge the best talents we have in both the quantitative and qualitative domains. Artists and designers are the ones who help bring humanity front and center, make us care, and create answers that resonate with our values.
Understanding what makes STEM programs successful in attracting and retaining talent is essential for creating an effective pipeline of STEM talent. With effective programs in place exhibiting the above characteristics, students will be actively engaged in the education process and motivated to pursue their STEM education regardless the academic rigor. As a result, students will have quality STEM preparation in order to be well-prepared for their STEM careers.
Addressing the Problems of Tomorrow
The challenges such as how to produce enough food for more than 9 billion people by the year 2050, while using less land, water and energy, or how to develop innovation-centric models of advanced manufacturing in order to remain competitive in a highly globalized world, are real world challenges that need to be solved. Creating innovative solutions for these challenges will require an innovative, STEM literate workforce. STEM initiatives that emphasize collaboration, innovation, diversity, and inclusion are necessary now in order to create an effective pipeline of STEM talent that would be able to tackle the unconventional problems of tomorrow.