What is STEM Education?

By now you certainly have heard of the buzzword, STEM. What is it? Where did it come from? What does it mean? Well, to put it simply, S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics; and STEM education refers to the academic studies surrounding these 4 subject areas. All right, that may have been a no-brainer, but did you know that these four areas have also been referred to as SMET, particularly in the early 2000s (you can probably guess the order rearrangement)? Only recently have these subjects started being referred to by the acronym, STEM.

Not only in the United States, but throughout the world, there is a growing push for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Whenever you see a campaign or commercials about these four areas, the word “innovation” often tags along. In a world where innovation is key to success, employers are seeking “innovators” and workers who know how to operate in a technologically advanced environment.

STEM education in the United States grew from the concern that there was not enough people learning about STEM in order to fulfill such employee roles; and with the current workforce aging, it was imperative to push education in order to fill those spaces that would be lost. Ultimately, the need for minds that could problem-solve, increase productivity and efficiency, and minimize cost was and still is at the top of many companies’ lists.

The fight for STEM, and the coinage of the acronym, has been gradual. It may be said that it began within foreign countries and with the development of scientific thought in general. In the United States, it could be said to have started with Benjamin Franklin and his ideas for electricity and machines; or Napoleon’s School for Industry practicing the integration of science, technology and math from 1806-1815; for aerospace, the Wright brothers were spearheads. However, the organization that really tied everything together, was the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Formed in 1950, NSF supported STEM education through fellowships and strengthening high school and undergraduate teaching within two years. In 1958, the National Defense Education Act would help provide fellowships and loans for students as well. (1958 was also the year NASA was created.) The organization would go on to improve education in the field at the college level and even focus on how to reach minorities in 1971. The subject area took a hit during the Reagan Administration however, having funding taken away from education, but bounced back in 1983 and has been furthering education in science, technology and math ever since. The subjects received a renewed charge from President Obama in his 2009 State of the Union Address, encouraging research and innovation.

In the 90’s it was evident that math, science, technology and engineering could not exist alone and therefore could not be taught in isolation. And so, “STEM” was born as an integration of the four.

Today, STEM is a well known concept both inside and outside the educational industry and is deservedly linked with the workforce. STEM has also been challenged by the integration of art as well, making the acronym “STEAM”, since creativity is as essential to innovation as right-brain thinking. Hopefully, this brief rundown of STEM education has sparked your interest to look more into the broad categories of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (and possibly even art); you just might find that it’s right where you belong!

This piece comes to us from one of our talented content contributors, Cynthia Sharpe. Her bio is below and if you would like to work with us you can email us here!

Cynthia M. Sharpe, is a May 2015 graduate of NC State University. Cynthia graduated with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing and currently aspires to pursue an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. “As I let my own light shine, I unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” -Cynthia M. Sharpe, inspired by Marianne Williamson

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