Last month at Governor Fallin's STEM Conference — the first-ever Oklahoma-wide event of its type to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in our state — the audience heard alarming statistics.
Although the job market is increasingly requiring STEM-educated students, only 25 percent of high school graduates pursue STEM studies; only 15 percent earn a STEM-focused degree. Of those, less than 10 percent enter into a STEM-related career.
In Oklahoma, although more than 50,000 students enroll in STEM subjects, just over 5,000 typically graduate in STEM-focused disciplines.
STEM coursework, whether it be at the college level or through a CareerTech program, is demanding and rigorous. Students have to come prepared. They can't simply decide to become scientists, computer programmers or engineers when they sign up for their first year and expect to make the grade.
One-quarter of students interested in STEM majors or careers are taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school. That's where they begin to develop the problem-solving disciplines that are so in demand in business today.
But we can't wait until high school to engage our kids in science and technology. We must start much earlier to get and keep them excited and curious.
This job doesn't only fall to our educators and state curriculum. Parents have a big role to play.
We parents should be encouraging our daughters and sons toward STEM subjects and problem solving. We have to find ways to capture their interest and make it fun. We have to demand that our middle through high schools offer robust STEM classes — and we have to be willing to support the effort with our parenting and tax dollars.
Why? Because we want our kids to get good jobs when they get out of school.
Nationally, the forecast demand for science and engineering occupations is projected to grow at more than double (20.6 percent) the rate of the overall U.S. labor force.
There are hundreds of open engineering jobs in oil and gas and other open technology jobs in Oklahoma. We should be teaching our kids geoscience in high school. They should be learning computer science. We ought to be offering them classes in JAVA and Magenta programming.
The message is straightforward. If we want our kids to be able to compete for the good jobs of the future (i2E's advanced technology clients average salary is $70,643 compared to the Oklahoma average of $37,246), we have to do our part as parents to get them interested and educated in technical disciplines and problem solving today.
Gov. Fallin's STEM Conference was a great first step. Now, the challenge is to keep the momentum rolling!
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state's technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
Since 2004, the expressed overall interest in STEM majors and careers among high school seniors has increased by more than 20 percent. However, high school seniors are about 10 percent less likely than freshman to indicate interest.