Students often think education in Sciences, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) is overwhelming. Common concerns involve everything from these being ‘smart people courses’ to ‘women don’t do that.’ However, one should take a deeper look at STEM education and career options before crossing them off the list.
STEM courses often require hard work, not native genius. Dr. Armineh Noravian, BSEE, MSE, MA, Ed.D. and Professor of Engineering, pointed out, “Students who get Cs in coursework often make the best engineers.” Dianna Davis, CAC’s STEM Academic Advisor at the Signal Peak Campus, said, “These fields are more often about perseverance and grit than intelligence.” Davis also suggested that students may need to take some particularly challenging courses more than once. Students intimidated by math courses may want to look at fields that don’t have heavy math requirements, like software development or coding.
A wide variety of people hold STEM jobs, but women, Hispanics, and African Americans remain underrepresented in most of these fields. Women are overrepresented in health fields but underrepresented in engineering. African American and Hispanic persons are underrepresented in all STEM fields. The Pew Research Center conducted a study broking down jobs in STEM fields by race and gender. This data shows that while some strides have been made, work remains in both education and workforce equality for STEM. Students looking to break through gender or racial barriers have plenty to achieve in these fields.
As a result, STEM fields often need more minority candidates. Dr. Noravian said, “Diversity brings different perspectives.” She also said that these fields suffer for not having these diverse perspectives. Indeed, some efforts go specifically into encouraging young people into these careers. Andres Gonzalez, a Professor of Computer Technology at CAC, mentioned Girls Who Code and Raspberry Pi as two foundations working to bring more minorities into information technology fields.
STEM education also provides several benefits after graduation. Dr. Judith Ramaley wrote to one of her colleagues that it would be, “Impossible to make wise personal decisions, exercise good citizenship, or compete in an increasingly global economy without knowledge of science and the ability to apply [it] thoughtfully and appropriately.” Both Dr. Noravian and Gonzalez also mentioned that STEM fields work well for individuals planning a family since they tend to be stable work that does not usually require travel.
According to the National Science Foundation, STEM fields typically pay well and have jobs available. As of 2019, unemployment in the STEM labor force was at 2%, lower than the non-STEM force at 4%. That pattern persists through the Covid-19 pandemic. Median earnings for STEM fields fair better than others at $55,000 in 2019 compared to $33,000 for non-STEM fields in the same year. These figures hold even for those who do not have a bachelor’s degree.
Not all STEM fields require a four-year degree. In some fields, an associate’s degree works very well, but individual fields vary. Consider carefully your needs as a student, particularly if you plan to transfer to a university to complete a degree. Some STEM degrees require coursework best taken just prior to graduation, and taking those courses early may mean having to repeat them. A session with a guidance counselor is strongly recommended for these reasons.
For anyone considering changing majors, CAC has a free Student Workshop called The Strong Interest Inventory to help determine what sort of studies they should pursue. These workshops are scheduled regularly, but space can be limited, so sign up early. Students can also work out their own educational path with My Majors, which can help map out their career options. If you’re seeing a guidance counselor for the first time, Davis advised, “It helps if the student has any associated materials like transcripts and testing results in addition to an idea of what they want to do.”
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