adult mentor boy in science lab

What is a STEM Degree and How to Get Kids into STEM?

Joe Wolf Education

Critics agree: There’s never been a more appropriate time for STEM education. But given the expenses that come with college, there’s bound to be some trepidation behind the viability of a STEM degree and how it equates to opportunities within the global workforce.

Let’s take a look at what a STEM degree is, what opportunities it presents, and how you can involve your kids in various STEM fields long before it’s even time for college.

Why STEM Education is Important

The world needs creative thinkers, especially ones curious about the ins-and-outs of science and technology. It’s no secret that STEM careers represent some of the most widespread opportunities in the world. And with statistics suggesting that the job market is only growing in America, now is the perfect time for students and parents to embrace a STEM curriculum.

Ultimately, STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) helps our society function on a macro and micro level. It plays a role in everything we do. From the cellphone in your pocket to the computer you use each day; from the GPS that took you to that new neighborhood grocery store to the alarm system protecting your home; from the future of self-driving cars to Amazon’s ultra-desired drone delivery; STEM is involved.

It’s the past, present, and future, which makes teaching and learning all the more timely. This means introducing future engineers to STEM before high school, and doing so intentionally. Too often, changing school curriculum demands equate to cuts and deficits. STEM shouldn’t be something put on the back burner.

To help with this, STEM-minded companies are creating learning experiences for kids to have outside of school. We’ve spoken about this before. At Thimble, we pride ourselves in being more than the average supplier of STEM “toys.” We’re educators, merging the fun of STEM starter kits with high-caliber instruction, so that every young engineer can benefit.

How to Pursue a STEM Degree

Eventually, the time will come to think about college. And if a STEM degree is in your child’s future, then there’s plenty to consider.

The “Ideal” Candidate

girl looking into microscope next to friend in classroom of kids

When it comes to college, admissions advisors are looking for holistic applications; that is, those students who demonstrate a well-rounded high school experience.

However, some “easy” STEM traits are for students to be inquisitive, showcase problem solving skills, and have a strong desire to innovate.

STEM majors are people who opt for learning over all else. They want to explore the how behind machines, electronics, and other pieces of technology, not just the what. Problem-solving skills are at the heart of all things STEM, which makes any opportunity to develop these in primary and secondary school valuable. And of course, creativity and innovation are pillars of STEM degrees.

Something else to keep in mind – STEM can also be referred to as either STEAM or STREAM. STEM originally saw a surge in popularity between 2009-2010. However, the U.S. has long seen a disparity between the number of STEM jobs available and amount of qualified job candidates. The former outweighs the latter.

As STEM degree programs have gained momentum, new disciplines have been added. STEAM accounts for Arts, which include humanities, visual arts, languages, design, etc.

STREAM takes things a step further, by including Reading/Writing. The argument circles back to the idea of a “holistic” experience. STREAM supporters acknowledge that a complete STEM curriculum should include literacy.

The benefit of STEM, STEAM, and STREAM is that they present more doors for students to walk through. STREAM represents the most expansive experience of all and should be accounted for when preparing your student for college.  Do their reading/writing skills match their design fervor? All work in tandem to foster creativity and innovation.

Career Opportunities

kids tinkering in classroom on electronics projects

STEM occupations for qualified candidates are plentiful. Tech-centric positions continue to experience rampant job growth, so there is much potential for students pursuing STEM degrees. Common professions include

  1. Computer programming / web development
  2. Actuaries
  3. Mathematicians / statisticians
  4. Engineers
    1. Computer engineering
    2. Chemical engineering
    3. Mechanical engineering
    4. Civil engineering
    5. Electrical engineering
    6. Industrial engineering
    7. Less common types (aerospace engineering, petroleum engineering, nuclear engineering, marine engineering, etc.)
    8. Various forms of scientists, specializing in biology, chemistry, astronomy, or physics.

Starting salaries also promise to make the challenging curriculum that STEM presents worthwhile, with the median salary for entry-level STEM professionals hovering at just over $65,000! If your student has any interest in science, technology, engineering, or math, let them explore the field and see if anything clicks!

Top STEM Programs

Stanford university campus

Important to note: The more prevalent STEM education becomes, the more college degree programs will compete with each other. For now, though, we’ll share three recognizable and oft-cited “top” programs in the for obtaining a STEM bachelor’s degree in the United States. We encourage you to check them out yourself and see what programs are offered, as well as how each program is structured. Remember, too, that many colleges offer scholarships to promising undergraduate students, which can help offset the educational cost.

This is a great launching pad for you and your student’s own research!

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

There’s no questioning MIT’s status as not only an elite research university, but one with a track record of producing notable scholars.

Three of the school’s departments fall under the STEM umbrella: Science, Engineering, and Architecture and Planning. Granted, the university is highly selective and costly at that, but its STEM programs are top notch and promise opportunities for research and much hands-on learning.

2. Stanford University

Considering Stanford’s location within the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that it is a STEM goldmine. With access to top-tier education and research opportunities, students are practically spoiled with opportunities at the university.

3. California Institute of Technology

Caltech is a popular destination for science and engineering programs. It holds credit for several inventions and discoveries including the positron, pH meter, silicon chip design, and gravitational waves, giving it an easy case for why it’s elite.

What’s more, Caltech’s known for its 3:1 student-faculty ratio, meaning more time for students to work in smaller settings with top STEM scholars and professionals.

How to Introduce Your Kids to STEM

Luckily, this is the easiest part!

Despite the fact that a lot of STEM skills still aren’t being taught in primary or secondary schools, it’s still a great time to introduce your kid to STEM. There’s nothing to lose – STEM teaches students key problem solving and critical thinking skills, all while potentially setting them up to pursue STEM degrees and careers.

Given the slow development of STEM curriculum in schools, the best course of action is to look for resources outside of class. Specifically, hands-on projects that show how fun STEM can be.

There are an infinite number of projects that you can pursue with your own student(s). And Thimble is always here to offer subscription boxes that allow kids to build their own tools and machines. Additionally, they get access to online classes, guided tutorials, and other virtual programs.

We believe in the futures of our young engineers and are here to help. Let’s teach STEM skills the best way we know how: Together! If you’re interested in learning more about our subscriptions which include a progression of 15 kits, synchronous, and asynchronous classes, subscribe today! 🙂