What is STEM education and why is it important?

STEM education builds knowledge and abilities that are widely useful and desirable in the professional world. The STEM field comprises four broad foundational areas:

  • Science.
  • Technology.
  • Engineering.
  • Math.

What makes STEM education so important? Each area of STEM education plays a crucial role in the modern economy. Scientists, from medical doctors to physicists, make discoveries and improvements to current processes that contribute value to the business world. The technology field produces software and hardware widely used by companies and consumers. Engineers create new designs and improve old ones in a range of areas relevant to the economy. Mathematicians use their expertise to solve practical and theoretical problems.

The real-world knowledge and skills built in STEM education support a variety of career paths and outcomes. This only scratches the surface of defining STEM education and why it is important. Keep reading to learn more about STEM education as well as its value to the modern economy and students just like you.

Why do we need STEM education?

STEM education is vital for building talents in problem-solving, collaboration and innovation. Additionally, it provides a base of specialized knowledge useful in many professional roles.

Many of the marvels of the modern world come from the disciplines included in STEM. Smartphones, business and accounting software, safe roads and bridges, lifesaving medical treatments and much more are all designed by professionals with a STEM background.

How does STEM education help students?

Students benefit from STEM education in the knowledge they develop and the unique learning experiences that are part of STEM programs.

A strong background in STEM is vital for securing a related job, but skills in the fields of STEM can be applied to many non-traditional STEM careers. For example, marketing professionals can benefit from an understanding of statistics. Business entrepreneurs could benefit from web coding experience to promote their company online. Musicians could benefit from cognitive science to understand how their music impacts listeners. This is to say, STEM skills can improve the abilities of any student in any field.

STEM activities provide students with hands-on learning opportunities that encourage new ways of thinking. Examples include:

  • Lab science: Students work directly with chemicals, tools and equipment to experiment, solve problems and achieve the desired result.
  • Computer science and technology: Learners build their own functional hardware and software. They combine theory and practice to achieve a functional, useful result.
  • Engineering: Pupils may design anything from a safe and optimized traffic intersection to an amusement park ride or new methods of sustainable living and supply chain management.
  • Mathematics: Scholars create geometrically stable structures. They can also use math to calculate the probabilities of many real-world events and make calculated decisions that affect areas of business in diverse industries.
  • Social science: Students organize and lead psychology experiments and gain-real world experience through internships in fields like homeland security.

Along with classroom instruction and work focused on theory, STEM education offers students the opportunity to learn by doing. At ASU, online students develop both theoretical and practical experience through unique course design. At-home labs and campus visits are just two of many examples. Remote work for learners involves accredited lab components. This includes at-home kitchen labs, personal chemistry experiments and online molecular biology labs using virtual reality simulations offered in partnership with Google and Labster.

Are STEM skills and STEM graduates in demand?

Engineers, technology specialists, scientists and mathematicians are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 8% increase in the number of STEM jobs from 2019 to 2029. That’s significantly higher than the 3.7% average growth for all occupations over the same period. A degree focused on one or more areas of STEM can help you find an engaging role in a growing employment area.

More students have come to understand the value of STEM skills and degrees. Interest in undergraduate and graduate STEM programs grew from 6% in 2014 to 11% in 2019, according to the 2019 Online College Student Report.

That said, there is still a large talent gap when it comes to STEM careers. Each year, there are 1.3 million new openings in STEM fields at the bachelor’s degree level. However, there are fewer than 600,000 new graduates to fill those job vacancies. Pursuing a STEM degree can open doors to many career opportunities.

To truly understand what STEM education is and why it is important, the value it provides beyond traditional fields like science and technology must also be considered. Many skills developed in STEM education are generally useful across multiple industries.

Graduates with a demonstrated ability to solve problems, innovate and collaborate can succeed in many roles. While their day-to-day work may not leverage technical knowledge, it will draw on key talents built through STEM. Whether you choose to pursue a STEM-focused career or another path, your education will offer a solid foundation and relevant skills to help achieve your professional goals.

Further education allows those with STEM degrees to continue building knowledge and learning about recent scientific and technical developments. Having an undergraduate degree in STEM is already an asset. Advancing your education with a graduate degree can mean qualifying for higher-level roles and the many benefits that come along with them.

Additionally, the high rate of change in required skills for STEM roles means graduates can earn premium salaries when they possess up-to-date knowledge. More experienced professionals can sometimes lose ground as new skills replace the skills they know. Continuing education helps to address these skill deficits.

ASU Online offers graduate degrees and certificate programs that help students accomplish three key objectives related to continuing education:

  • Empowering career growth.
  • Keeping up with the most recent developments in their field.
  • Maintaining and improving current knowledge.

Professor speaks with mechanical engineering students about the Bio-Inspired Robotics Technology and Healthcare Lab, or BIRTH lab, at Arizona State University.

How have related careers been affected by the growth of the STEM field?

Graduates with a STEM education are in high demand. This trend is clear in the employment forecast and in pay data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 20 highest-paying jobs in 2019, 75% were STEM-based careers.

As the STEM field develops, opportunities become more prevalent. Increasingly, advanced technology grows more commonplace. Scientists continue to make new and exciting discoveries. Engineers build more efficient, productive and safe designs. Mathematicians push the boundaries of existing knowledge. All these activities require additional staff as companies expand and current workers retire or move to other fields.

Increasing demand means a number of benefits for STEM graduates. Not only is there a significant talent gap when it comes to STEM degree holders, but compensation is also competitive. The median annual salary for all STEM occupations was $86,980 in 2019, according to the bureau. Comparatively, the median salary for non-STEM positions was just $38,160. This is another reason why STEM education is so important for job seekers. Not only are potential jobs plentiful, but many also offer considerable compensation.

What are the different careers in STEM?

There are many career options in STEM for graduates with science, technology, engineering or mathematics degrees. STEM professionals hold careers in public health, research, renewable energy, computer technology, space exploration, automotive development, big data analysis and more.

ASU offers more than 85 STEM degrees, from health and business to forensics and public policy. That means you can select the program that best aligns with your interests, talents and career goals.

One of the advantages of a STEM degree is the level of flexibility it provides to graduates. Degree holders can qualify for a variety of careers.

It’s impossible to create a definitive list of all STEM careers. Developments in the STEM disciplines mean new roles and responsibilities are emerging every day. However, there are many well-established positions in each of the four STEM fields.

Science

Graduates with relevant STEM degrees may pursue careers in a number of scientific subfields. Popular examples include natural, health and social sciences. Some specific career examples include:

  • Biochemist.
  • Clinical laboratory technologist or technician.
  • Forensic scientist.
  • Nurse.
  • Psychologist.

Technology

The technology field is especially broad. That means it can accommodate STEM graduates with a variety of career goals. Students may pursue degrees in fields like information technology and cybersecurity. Completing a STEM curriculum can open doors to roles such as:

  • Computer and information systems manager.
  • Computer systems analyst.
  • Information security analyst.
  • Network and computer system administrator.
  • Software developer.

Engineering

Engineers fulfill a crucial role in connecting new discoveries in STEM fields like science and math to practical, real-world applications. Although the engineering field primarily focuses on creating, analyzing and testing new structures and concepts, there are many different subfields students may choose to pursue. Examples of career paths include:

  • Electrical engineer.
  • Mechanical engineer.
  • Industrial engineer.
  • Software engineer.
  • Systems engineer.

    Math

    Mathematics has an incredible number of theoretical and practical applications. Learners can focus on a variety of subfields for their education, such as data analytics, and then move on to a number of careers. Options include:

    This wide array of potential careers helps answer the question, “What is STEM education and why is it important?” It’s clear that graduates with STEM degrees fill a number of valuable roles within the economy and larger society. Their work helps drive innovation and improvement that everyone can benefit from.

    In the same spirit, ASU Online regularly launches new programs with experienced faculty to keep pace with developments and directional changes in the STEM landscape. As a leading United States center for interdisciplinary research, discovery and development, our educators and administrators keep their fingers on the pulse of the many industries connected to STEM. Our award-winning faculty, including Donna Kidwell, Linda Elkins-Tanton and Cady Coleman, along with our accomplished students, help push innovation beyond conventional boundaries.

    How is STEM shaping the future?

    Professionals and graduates from STEM degrees are changing the course of our future through new discoveries in health and medical science, space exploration and technology that improve our society. STEM professionals are also able to leverage their skills to better understand social problems and offer solutions to improve inequities and public safety. With the wide range of how STEM skills are applied in our modern world, it’s almost impossible to overstate how much STEM is shaping our future.

    For example, Professor Jim Bell, a planetary scientist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, is the principal investigator for Mastcam-Z. This crucial part of NASA’s Perseverance rover for the Mars 2020 mission will help STEM professionals working on the project explore the red planet in depth.

    Timothy Lant, director of program development at the ASU Biodesign Institute, leads the university’s COVID-19 modeling task force. The group provides predictive modeling used by authorities to make informed public health decisions. ASU researchers also created Arizona’s first saliva-based diagnostic test for COVID-19. ASU then partnered with the Arizona Department of Health Services to offer free testing in underserved communities.

    One area of potential growth to keep in mind is diversity among STEM graduates. According to the National Science Foundation, of all science and engineering degrees awarded in 2016, women earned about half of the bachelor’s degrees and 44% of master’s degrees. In the same year, students from underrepresented minority groups received 22% of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. ASU is committed to increasing diversity in STEM and helping to include more diverse and valuable perspectives among the many STEM-related fields.

    STEM education from a trusted leader

    A better understanding of what STEM education is and why it is important allows you to make more informed decisions about your educational future. ASU offers more than 85 STEM degrees online.

    As a leading global center for research and discovery, ASU is at the forefront of STEM education. To learn more about your education options, view our full list of online STEM programs.

    Sources:
    ASU Online — Telecommuting to the Red Planet
    ASU Online — Turning Data into Decisions in a Pandemic
    ASU Online — Online Degree Programs
    ASU Online — STEM Degrees
    ASU Online — How the Online BS in Biochemistry Educates Students on Hands-On Laboratory Work
    ASU Now — ASU Develops State’s First Saliva-Based COVID-19 Test
    ASU Now — ASU Online Biology Course is First to Offer Virtual-Reality Lab in Google Partnership
    Field of Degree: Women by the National Science Foundation
    Employment in STEM Occupations by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
    Highest Paying Occupations by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
    Real-Time Insight into the Market for Entry-Level STEM Jobs by Burning Glass Technologies
    Online College Students 2019 by Learning House

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