Employment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations is continuing to grow. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center (PRC), STEM employment has increased 79% since 1990. While careers in STEM maintain a steady increase, it’s important to keep in mind what role diversity is playing within these jobs.
Based on research from the PRC, gender, racial and ethnic diversity is not keeping pace with the rapid rise in STEM occupations. Currently, women make up a large majority of workers in healthcare-related jobs, but are underrepresented in science, technology and engineering careers. More specifically, women make up only 15% of the nation’s engineers and architects. Additionally, Black and Hispanic adults are less likely to earn degrees in STEM-related disciplines, compared with other degree fields, and only account for 8% of the STEM workforce.
Developing STEM Opportunities
It’s clear that we need to focus on ways to significantly improve diversity within STEM careers. One way to do this is to plant that seed for STEM early by improving outreach to children and teens in K-12 classrooms. This can be done by:
- Finding ways to demonstrate the importance of diverse representation.
- Incorporating activities that help students see themselves pursuing STEM careers.
- Pursuing support and partnership opportunities with diverse groups and associations like the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers.
- Tying in the importance of design-build thinking in the classroom with programs like the Burns & McDonnell Early Educator Fellowship and the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains.
A STEM Journey From Experience
My journey in STEM began when I was able to get a foot in the door with Burns & McDonnell as an intern in the Fleet Department after my senior year at Grandview High School. After that summer, I began pursuing my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which is also when I started my three-year summer internship in the Oil, Gas and Chemicals Group at Burns & McDonnell. The internship opportunities really helped propel my full-time career as an engineer, and I have now been an employee-owner with the company for 12 years.
To improve our diversity in STEM occupations, it’s important for each of us to follow our passion and strengths. The fact is, you won’t always be surrounded by people who come from a similar background, but your presence paves the way for the next generation of STEM professionals.
Similar to sports and other skills, introducing STEM-related ideas and opportunities at a young age can help increase a greater thirst for knowledge and more confidence in the topic as children and teens grow older and start planning for their futures.
Getting students excited about STEM is essential to building a brighter future for all of us. Showing students how STEM topics fit into the real world and real careers can give them the tools to embrace this vital message.