Branching out with STEM
Twenty-first century students want rewarding careers with social relevance—jobs that pay well and make a positive impact on society while providing a work environment that supports social interaction.
Unfortunately, says Pam Cook, few students correlate these traits with the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, known collectively as STEM. Cook, associate dean of engineering and professor of mathematical sciences at UD, now sets the record straight, offering five key reasons to choose STEM studies and careers:
1] Exciting career choices
The Apple iPhone, aging cities, aircraft, cosmetics, social networking, cyber security and disease prevention all have something in common. They benefit from STEM-focused discoveries fueled by knowledge, collaboration, creativity and innovation. Science and technology form the base for many aspects of society, from health care to clean energy, transportation, computers and communication. Students who pursue STEM can explore exciting careers in a variety of areas with real-world impact.
2] Team-oriented work environment
Scientists and engineers do not work alone. They are problem-solvers who collaborate with others in academia, industry and government to solve society’s most challenging problems.
Whether pioneering health discoveries and disease cures through biotechnology; exploring new composite materials for clothing, roadways or flight; or investigating alternative energy sources to preserve our global resources, cross-disciplinary teamwork and communication are critical to STEM innovation.
3] Positive global impact
Engineers, scientists and technologists make a world of differences that benefit society and build international community. Through service-learning groups such as Engineers Without Borders, students at UD apply academic learning in the service of others—improving access to clean, sustainable water in the African nation of Cameroon, for example, and constructing a bridge in Guatemala.
Others pursing STEM careers are advancing efforts to restore and redesign our nation’s infrastructure, including pipes, bridges and roads; working to mitigate complications resulting from disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina; collaborating with experts in physical therapy to improve mobility in adults and children with disabilities; and engineering artificial human tissue for vocal cords, all efforts with universal impact. STEM education is more than classroom or laboratory learning. It is helping our neighbors at home and abroad.
4] Entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities
Japanese beetles as inspiration for stronger, more durable aircraft composites? Robots trained in disaster response? Soybeans and chicken feathers used as a bio-based source of clean energy? Materials scientists doing detective work to improve the understanding of art? Liquid armor used as surgical glues and body protection?
All brilliant innovations begin with a single idea. Today’s STEM students are uniquely positioned to be front-runners on the world stage as researchers, educators, leaders and entrepreneurs—all engaged in advancing the world we live in.
5] A promising employment outlook
It is critical to the nation’s continued economic recovery and to our economic competitiveness well into the future that we encourage students to pursue STEM careers.
Individuals trained in STEM fields have a competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing global economy.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2008-2018, many of the fastest-growing jobs in the service sector are and will be STEM-related, high-end occupations that include doctors, nurses, health technicians and engineers. One prime example is biomedical engineering, which is cited as the fastest-growing occupation, with jobs in this field expected to grow by 72 percent by 2018. Another growing field is computer science, with an estimated 1.4 million computer-specialist job openings expected in the same time frame.
Overall, industries projected to experience the most employment growth include scientific, technical and management consulting and computer systems design.
Photos by Ambre Alexander, Kathy F. Atkinson, Linda Hsu & Evan Krape